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Teen/Middle Grade Fiction

re: Rules for Love Scenes in YA Fiction?

in Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I’m writing an upper YA fantasy. It has a lovemaking scene. The scene doesn’t mention birth control so I was wondering what’s the rule these days in YA novels when characters make love? The scene has many big revelations about their history in another dimension, and I’m trying to convey that they’ve “done it” without being explicit, so there’s already a lot going on and I’m trying to make it feel otherworldly. If I can get away without mentioning a condom, I’d rather not include it. Would love your thoughts on this.

Warmly,
RL

Dear RL…

There is a general expectation that YA novels depict safe sex. An exception would be if you’re intentionally showing characters being irresponsible or naive about safety and pregnancy. I do hear your artistic rationale for avoiding that down-to-earth detail among your otherworldly revelations. I’ve got an idea: Early in the scene, your character could put a condom in his/her pocket in anticipation of the upcoming encounter. That way, when the bodies get down to business, there’s an implication that the condom mentioned earlier is being used now, even though you don’t call it out specifically. The safe sex message is accomplished, and your complex, highly stylized scene is unmarred by a clunky condom call-out.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Will U.S. Editors Buy U.K. Manuscripts?

in Publishing Biz/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor:

I live in the UK and have written YA mystery. As for the market to pitch it to, I’ve assumed that I wouldn’t be able to sell it in the States. I have this idea—I’m not even entirely sure where I got it from—that it’s even harder for European writers to get their books picked up in the States than it is in the UK. However, you are the expert so if you think that’s not the case and I’d stand a chance, I would very interested in your insights, as impending Brexit has everyone here concerned about what’s going to happen with the British publishing market.

Thank you,
Bundt Boss

Dear Bundt Boss:

Books aren’t one-size-fits-all. Whichever market you make a play for, a book must meet the audience’s distinct expectations and quirks. U.S. publishers generally believe their readers don’t want to read about characters who live and adventure outside U.S. borders. An exception would be a novel with the “American abroad” theme, like Anna and the French Kiss. (We’ll ignore Harry Potter, which defies most assumptions.) If your mystery takes place in the U.K., with British characters, you’ll encounter resistance with U.S. publishers. Can and are you willing to set your mystery in the U.S., or make your main character an American Abroad? With Brexit injecting uncertainty, I admire your interest in thinking out of the box. Have you got other tricks up your sleeve to adapt this for U.S. readers? Committing to the U.S. teen fiction market may require substantial adjustments.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Choosing When to Chuck a Joke

in Creative Process/General fiction/Narrative Voice/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I’m seeking confirmation. If a joke/gag doesn’t advance the plot/story, is it best to chuck it? As I revise my middle grade fantasy manuscript, that’s what I’m inclined to do, especially if the gag/joke, while possibly funny enough, stalls the advancement of the story. Got to keep things moving, right?

Sincerely,
The Jokester

Dear Jokester…

I say that’s mostly right. Plot advancement is a crucial gauge for keep-it-or-chuck-it choices. Just don’t let good intentions regarding plot advancement take you on some joke-axing rampage that squelches your humor in service of brevity and focus. As with all things writing, revising humor is about finding balance. A joke that doesn’t directly advance the plot can stay if it’s organic to the story, evolving from the character or situation. That contributes to the personality of the project, which is essential, too. Be tough with these criteria. The jokes that don’t pass the test with room to spare—the funny-for-funny’s-sake gags—should get the ax.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Can a Teen Novel with Traditional Values Sell?

in Publishing Biz/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

How does the marketplace view YA stories that portray traditional moral values?  For example, no sex outside of marriage, etc.

Thank you,
M.

Dear M….

Young adult fiction reflects teen behavior, interests, and concerns. And truthfully, some teens do engage in or at least wonder about the stuff outside traditional morals, so of course it’ll show up in YA lit. Realistic contemporary YA, in particular, is known to sometimes include sex outside of marriage and to explore morally debatable topics. Since that’s the hottest genre in the market right now, it can seem like traditional moral values aren’t in vogue. But YA doesn’t always bust moral norms. Perhaps not even most of the time. Plenty of its stories show teens exploring who they are and how they fit into the world via non-norm-busting scenarios. Broken friendships, for instance, and threatened dreams, and finding out if the boy you’re crushing on likes you back. Agents, editors, and readers are generally more interested in being emotionally moved by a character or storyline than titillated, so traditional-values YA with strong emotional resonance will always have a place in the market.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Page Time for Adult Villains in YA Fiction?

in Characterization/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

Here’s a problem I’d like your advice on. I understand wanting to keep my YA novel from a younger perspective, but my villains are adults. I hate flat villains so I wanted to give some back story. How much time do I spend on the adult antagonist?

Thank you,
Oldies But Baddies

Dear Oldies But Baddies…

Bring on the adult antagonists, and let them have their page time! One of my favorite books, The Golden Compass, does this well. (Readers, your favs?) The key to finding your screen time balance: This is a young protagonist’s story, written for young people to read, so commit yourself to putting the focus on your teen characters, always. And don’t fall into the trap of thinking backstory will deepen your antagonists. In fact, being stingy with info about motivations and circumstances can enhance the mystery of your bad guys and their nefarious deeds, making us wonder about them. As we wonder, tease us with blips of insight, show them emoting, give them non-stereotypical traits and behaviors, and reveal both their strengths and flaws. I’ve got a big essay about crafting rich antagonists here. Be frugal with upfront backstory, and make the most of the screen time you grant them.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Which Swear Words are Allowed in YA Lit?

in Dialogue/Narrative Voice/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I’m writing a YA novel. Quick question: How are words like screw, damn, cr*p, and sh*t looked upon? (Though I think I know the answer to the last one!)

Thanks,
Weighing My Words

Dear Weighing My Words…

Depends on the eyes doing the looking, of course. But in general, screw, damn, and crap fall within the realm of slang or casual speech now, so use them if they fit the book’s tone and concept. Don’t use them if your sole reason is “because that’s how kids really talk.” If dialogue were “real talk,” you’d be writing a lot of stuttering and ums. Sh*t is trickier, being more cuss word than general-use slang. (Notice we both use an asterisk when typing it? That’s telling.) It’s not the F-bomb, but it disturbs enough people that if you can write around it you might want to. Again, consider the project. With gritty topics like drug use, strong words can be par for the course. Option: Use now, discuss with your editor later. She won’t reject a project for this alone. If she feels such words aren’t right for a book about which she’s otherwise passionate, she’ll discuss rather than nix.

Happy writing!
The Editor

Guest Editor Carter Higgins: How to Tackle a Big Revision

in Creative Process/Guest Editors/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

From a practical (logistical) standpoint, do you have any advice for how to tackle a large revision of a manuscript I haven’t read in over a year? I’ve just had it professionally edited. I’m thinking I’ll read through those edits, then print out the manuscript and read the whole thing. And make changes as I go? Or read it through once and then go through again and make changes? Or read it electronically and then make changes and then print it out? I just can’t decide quite how to approach it.

Sincerely,
J.

CarterHiggins1Carter Higgins has traveled a storyteller’s career path, from librarian to motion graphics designer and back to librarian. She is also the author of the middle grade novel A Rambler Steals Home (HMH, 2017) and the picture book Everything You Need for a Treehouse (Chronicle Books, 2017, illus. Emily Hughes).

Dear J….

I recently tackled a pretty large scale revision of my debut middle grade novel, A Rambler Steals Home. RAMBLERAnd when I say big, I mean big. Ultimately I rewrote approximately the first two-thirds of the novel, eliminated a beloved character, and changed a lot of intricately woven plot points which resulted in a domino effect through the pacing and structure of the entire thing. It’s a much better book thanks to the wisdom and vision of my editor, and the way I navigated her very thorough and very smart suggestions. Your mileage may vary with these steps, but this process helped me break down what seemed like an impossible and daunting task:

1. I cried. Not because I disagreed but because it was so overwhelming to even figure out how to begin. And not because I was intimidated, but because the warm fuzzy feelings of storytelling had to be replaced with good, hard work. I had to get ready for that.
2. I read my editor’s letter over and over and over again until I could feel it more. I took bulleted notes on it and rephrased chunks of it into my own words to really, truly understand what she was suggesting. I read it on my computer, I read it on my Kindle, and I read it on paper.
3. Then, I reread the current/old version of the manuscript in order to see it through the eyes of that editorial letter.
4. I identified what the story was really about—those were the parts that we were trying to heighten and tighten and strengthen, and made a loose outline of a new sequence of events to reach that goal.
5. Which for me, meant rewriting most of the story. Because I’d reread it before beginning this revision, I knew where I could pull chunks of words that I liked, even if I was re-crafting everything around it.
6. Finally, I read the manuscript again, start to finish, and immediately reread the edit letter. For me, it was all about feeling if I hit those points and less a checklist of sorts. After a couple of rounds of back and forth, once I felt like the draft breathed the same air as the letter (and when I was also happy with it!) I called that revision done.

– Carter

re: Any Hope for Serious Middle Grade Fiction?

in Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

My critique group is concerned my contemporary middle grade story might be too earnest/serious for the MG market, and they are wondering if I should do some work on sprinkling in more funny moments to break it up. Note: They haven’t read the whole manuscript at one time yet. Do you have a comment on that?

Sincerely,
Too Serious?

Dear Too Serious?…

Sprinkling in funny bits won’t change the nature of your story. If a playful moment is organic to a scene, then yes, go for it—laughter among tears is great fun. But I advise against trying to make the story what it isn’t. There’s a place for serious, earnest stories for and about middle graders. Consider the quiet success of One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street, with its many awards and starred reviews. Consider the higher profile success of  Wonder and The One and Only Ivan. Consider the two Pam Munoz Ryan books my three 10-year-old boys are reading this week in school and for fun: curriculum staple Esperanza Rising and new bestseller Echo. MG fiction has a broad range. Some stories are super serious, some are super funny, plenty are in between. All should resonate in the hearts of young readers.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Do Middle Graders Like Corny Metaphors?

in Narrative Voice/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction/Uncategorized by

Dear Editor…

An editor recommended I read a book that would be a competitor to my middle grade adventure WIP. The book was engrossing enough to keep me entertained, but I think a lot of the metaphors were rather corny. Here’s a made-up one as an example: “His words were as hard as stale pizza.” In some cases, the author actually has two or three of these metaphors on a page and I found it distracting. I do note that the book is supposed to be playful as well as adventurous. My question: Is it okay to have metaphors like that for 10- to 12-year-olds? It seems corny to me, but then I am 63 years old, not 10.

Sincerely,
Young at Heart

Dear Young at Heart…

Indeed, humorous MG fiction can feature intentionally corny metaphors; readers that age do still chuckle over such silliness. That’s not your cup o’ tea, though, and that’s okay. We all have different sensibilities when it comes to humor, even ten-year-old boys. (I have three of those creatures, so I know firsthand.) Hammy metaphor is just one device for building an MG narrative voice with sniffs of humor. If you can craft a youthful voice using other devices—and there are many—all the better. Knowing your competition means not just knowing what’s selling but also knowing how your book stands out from the others. You’ll use that info for positioning purposes when it’s time to submit or publish. For now, work on honing a narrative voice that sounds youthful because it reflects the perspective and concerns of that age group. Leave the ham and corn to those who like that fare.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Writing a Romantic Scene for a Novel That’s Not Romance

in Characterization/Plot/Romance Novels/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I need your help! I’m writing a book, and I don’t know how to incorporate a romance scene without making the whole book a romance. It’s a YA Novel, and I don’t want to ruin the book.

Sincerely,
H.

Dear H.…

You’re trying to force a plot or character shift with an unearned moment of mushiness, and that won’t work. The fun of reading a romantic scene is feeling the emotional threads that author has been weaving between two characters finally tighten with satisfying resonance. The story hits an emotional peak, and it’s oh so lovely. Ahhhh. Without those emotional threads, no peak. Just dialogue lacking emotional underpinning and awkward touching. Ick. You don’t want to write that, and I don’t want to read it. What relationship shift is true to your characters? Their internal arcs and relationship arc haven’t been about attaining rewards found in romantic love. What’s their emotional need? Is their forced team-up finally shifting to true friendship? Are they revealing vulnerabilities to establish true trust? Identify why the characters you’ve written must connect emotionally at this moment, then write that peak. You’ll enjoy that scene, as will we.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Confused About Diversity

in Characterization/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I heard a panel at a recent conference say I had to be of a particular race to write about it, but at the same conference a different panel said I don’t have to be of a particular race to have those characters. I happen to have characters from three different countries in my middle grade fantasy WIP. Now I’m confused and questioning my WIP. Help?

Sincerely,
Confused About Diversity

Dear Confused About Diversity…

Other writers who don’t consider their lives “diverse” have also told me they want to contribute to diversity in children’s lit but are confused about how to do so in actual practice. I believe that, regardless of genre, to write a character that feels authentic you must understand how that character perceives, reacts to, and interacts with their world. Some people say that means you must’ve lived within the culture to write about it. I agree with that if your protagonist’s race/culture is a driving theme in your story. At the least, writers of those stories should have some immersive experience or deep research that allows them to write from a place of understanding beyond obvious assumptions, stereotypes, and reliance on shout-outs about foods and traditions to signal race/culture. If race/culture isn’t a driving theme, there’s room to diversify your cast if they’re individuals first and foremost; if they exist as representatives of a culture—tokens, if you will—then you’re likely walking the wrong side of the line. For more, I like SLJ’s brief intro to this list of diverse YA fiction and WeNeedDiverseBooks.org.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Is It MG Fiction If the Character Ages Into His 20s?

in Characterization/Narrative Voice/New Adult Fiction/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I am writing a manuscript that starts with the MC at 7 yearrs old. He soon turns 9, then 11, then 15, and so on. The novel ends with him in his mid-20s. The voice starts out young and I want to pitch it as MG, but at the very end of the book, he does sound more mature (with slight, gradual changes throughout as the story moves along). Is it wrong to label this as MG? Should I make the voice mature from the beginning to avoid the changes at all? Am I doing something wrong?? I’m so confused! Help!!

Thank you!
Mary

Dear Mary…

This is more a question of audience than voice. You want to pitch the story as middle grade fiction, but how many middle graders want to read about a mid-20-year-old? Or a 15-, 18-, 20-, 22-year-old? Will the take-away from the protagonist’s long character arc resonate more with a tween or an adult? He’s living through several developmental stages, each with a distinct sensibility and concerns. Crossover readers aged 18-44 do read MG, but they aren’t the primary readership. I suspect this story is better crafted for the adult or new adult markets, with grown readers in mind. You can start with that youthful MC, but it’s worth experimenting with an opening that allows readers to meet and connect with the older protagonist first. A flashback approach could show his younger self. Or, you could start with that 7-year-old and a more mature voice, hinting that there’s an older presence looking back. Your first step, though, is to definitively identify your target reader. Answer this: If you sat at a table and started telling this story, who would be sitting on the other side of that table?

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: YA Characters in an NA Plot Can’t Be Good, Right?

in New Adult Fiction/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I thought I was writing a YA, but after reading a chapter of your Writing New Adult Fiction and interviews about the NA category, I’ve began to wonder if my characters and some of the content may be better suited for new adults. Plus, an agent asked questions about some of the actions taken by the antagonist and the legality of it all, suggesting they may not be suited for 13-17 readers. How do I know if this is NA or YA? My main protagonist and antagonist are 18, just graduated from high school, but my MC’s main partner in the adventure is 17. Maybe it would work better if she, too, were just graduated? Changing the plot would make the story feel forced. I’ll probably learn more as I read your book, but any advise for me now?

Sincerely,
Not Sure Which Way to Go

Dear Not Sure Which Way to Go…

YA fiction does have its 18-year-old characters, some even graduated, so characters’ ages aren’t your determining factor. And YA does have edgy content. The agent’s suggestion that your plot and maybe even concept are better suited for the NA market is illuminating. Ponder a third factor: your characters’ mindset. Each developmental phase of life has a general sensibility, or way of processing the world and one’s place in it. Do your characters seem to be processing the greater world for the first time, figuring out how they fit into it? That’s very teen. Or do they have enough life experience under their belts that they think they’ve figured it out, at least a bit? That’s a general trait of new adults, who then explore and advance their world views. NA stories force new adults to reassess what they thought they knew as they fight their battles. Sometimes they confirm what they’d figured out, but usually they’re breaking down and rebuilding. If that sounds like your characters, and your story’s circumstances feel far enough out of the teen realm to send up flags with an agent, it’s likely this is an NA.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: How Come If I Stay’s Opening Works?

in General fiction/Openings/Plot/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Readers…

Last week a writer—Diane—asked me why some current bestsellers that start with backstory or as the day is dawning can make those slower beginnings work so well? She specifically asked about The Fault in Our Stars and If I Stay. I posted my answer about The Fault in Our Stars last week. I think this is such a useful exploration of story beginnings that I’m taking up that same question today, this time parsing out If I Stay‘s opening.

The Editor

Dear Diane…

Gayle Forman’s If I Stay opens with what looks like a no-no: the protagonist joins her family for breakfast and they discuss plans for the day. Too often such “dawning day” openings just introduce the protagonist and show her “home base” as a reference point before she leaves for adventure. A strong opening doesn’t just introduce and ground—it intrigues readers in ways that prompt further reading. Forman intrigues by triggering and stoking anticipation. Her chapter header is “7:09 a.m.”, setting up the expectation that a big thing will happen any minute. Then the first two sentences tell us some big “it” is pending. Next, the family debates whether to stay off the icy roads. By then, readers—who know they’ve chosen a book about a girl deciding to live or die after she’s the only survivor of her family’s car crash—have their metaphoric hands over their eyes, thinking, “No! Stay home!” Forman stokes anticipation even as she shows the loving family her protagonist will lose, setting up the heroine’s emotional anguish. Dawning day, yes, but that dawn is loaded.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: How Come The Fault In Our Stars Opening Works?

in Narrative Voice/Openings/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I am currently devouring your Writing New Adult Fiction. You strongly encourage authors to jump into the action from the very first sentence but a few current best sellers begin with backstory or as the day is dawning, as in The Fault in Our Stars and If I Stay. Can you give any insight as to what makes those slower beginnings work so well?

Thank you,
Diane

Dear Diane…

In media res, or “in the middle of the action,” is about timing your book’s opening so that readers join a life in progress rather than shake your hand and read your cast list. This strategy is coupled with other strategies intended to intrigue readers, like piquing curiosity, startling them, triggering fears, etc. The Fault in Our Stars opens with Hazel going to the Support Group meeting where she’ll meet the love of her life. It’s the right time to enter her life even though the action isn’t bold. John Green then startles readers with first lines that defy expectations: a teen poo-poos her impending death. He then makes sure all teens can relate to that teen narrator even though they don’t suffer terminal cancer: Hazel suffers adults who claim to know how she should handle her problem because they are adults and adults know best. I feel your suffering, fellow teen! Her description of the meeting and how she’s been pushed to go feels more like commiserating with peers than a backstory dump. Slow? For those who want more action, perhaps. But the book’s success suggests its opening intrigues. I love this question and will explore If I Stay‘s opening in the next post.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Is Kindle Singles Right for My Middle Grade Mystery?

in Ebooks/Formatting/Punctuation/Grammar/Publishing Biz/Submissions/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

What do you think about selling a middle grade mystery on Kindle Singles? I’m not sure how one finds buyers after putting it on there. Also would an agent consider looking at it if it was on Kindle Singles?

Thanks,
M.G. Mystery Writer

Dear M.G. Mystery Writer…

The Kindle Singles program, which showcases 5,000- to 30,000-word ebooks, is a great way to distinguish writings that are less than novella length. Readers have expectations, and to get a slim book when you thought you bought a full novel can be frustrating. At the moment, KS guidelines exclude “children’s books”—yet KS pubbed bestselling R.J. Palacio’s WONDER-based short story. If KS won’t take your MG, you can publish it as a regular ebook, being clear about the length in your description and using a lower price point. Your concerns about discoverability are legit, as they are for any MG writer since COPPA limits our ability to engage young readers online. Your social media promo efforts will target parents, adult MG readers, teachers, and librarians to get them chin-wagging. Consider waiting to pub your short-length project until you have 2 or 3 titles; a series or body of work has a larger promo footprint. Self-pubbing it won’t affect agents’ decisions unless the ebook is poor quality.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: How Old Should My MG Protagonist Be?

in Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

How old would my protagonist have to be to be considered “tween fiction”? My critique group thinks I’m in the wrong genre.

Sincerely,
Yvette

Dear Yvette…

In tween fiction, more technically called “middle grade fiction,” protagonists are usually tweens just like their young readers, putting them in the 9–14 age range. That range includes both older elementary school kids and early high schoolers—which is quite a wide range when you think about it. The maturity levels therein can be all over the map. Consider the sophistication of your concept, themes, and storytelling style as you determine where your project falls. The shift from tween to teen sophistication generally starts happening around age twelve, when they shift from focusing inward and struggling to find out who they are, to looking outward and realizing that they play a role in a bigger world. (Insiders call these books for older tweens “upper middle grade.”) That’s as important to consider as your protagonist’s age, which should match the age of your target reader or be just slightly above it. Young people like to read “up.”

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Are Series Giving Way to Stand-Alones in MG Fiction?

in Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I am wondering: Have series fallen into disfavor? Is it currently better to write a stand-alone book when writing middle grade fiction? From your recent post and your state of the market keynote at the SCBWI Summer Conference last month, I would guess that our current tight market, although showing signs of improvement, would favor stand-alone books. Is this correct? I would love to have your opinion on this.

Thanks!
Pauline

Dear Pauline…

It’s more accurate to say that the current middle grade fiction market is more open to stand-alone books than it’s been in recent years. I interviewed seventeen industry insiders to create that market keynote you’re referring to, including agents, editors, sales and marketing managers in both the trade and the school & library markets, independent marketing experts, and experts in digital books. I asked every one of them about the state of series in each of the various children’s book categories. I came away from those interviews understanding that the inclination toward trilogies and series in MG and YA fiction in recent years seems to be shifting a bit, with agents and editors more actively seeking stand-alone books that can stand out thanks to distinct, marketable concepts and that can hold up thanks to strong craft.

Happy writing!
The Editor

FREE EDIT Giveaway to Celebrate Annemarie O’Brien’s Debut, Lara’s Gift

in Giveaways/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Readers…

I’m thrilled today to host Annemarie O’Brien, DearEditor.com’s first Free Edit giveaway winner ever, whose debut MG novel LARA’S GIFT pubs this week. As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one way to celebrate that: with another FREE EDIT giveaway! Read my interview with Annemarie about her journey from idea to publication, then enter the giveaway for a free substantive edit of your fiction manuscript (novels up to 80,000 words; picture book mss ok). Good luck!

The Editor

Annemarie O’Brien has an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She teaches creative writing courses at UC Berkeley Extension, Stanford Continuing Studies, Pixar, and DreamWorks, as well as edits children’s books for Room to Read which advocates literacy in developing countries. Lara’s Gift is her debut middle grade novel.

LarasGift“Powerful and engrossing!” – Kirkus starred review
In 1914 Russia, Lara is being groomed by her father to be the next kennel steward for the Count’s borzoi dogs unless her mother bears a son. But Lara’s visions, suppressed by her father, suggest she has a special bond with the dogs. [book trailer]

Annemarie, I’m curious about your publication experience as well as the actual writing of Lara’s Gift. How did you connect with your agent?
Author and friend Varian Johnson introduced me to Sarah Davies at the 2009 Los Angeles SCBWI National Conference. He thought she would be a good fit for me and my manuscript, LARA’S GIFT. Sarah and I chatted and it didn’t take long before I was charmed by her lovely British accent. More importantly, I felt in my gut that Sarah was the right agent for me. What I like best about Sarah is that she’s a great communicator and responds to my emails and questions almost immediately! She is equally as strong and comfortable on the editorial side of publishing as she is on the business end. She is consummate professional and cares about all of her writers.

What was it like to get the offer from your editor?
It was a dream come true!

About ten years before I submitted my manuscript to Knopf editor Erin Clarke, my college roommate, Amy Myer, gave me a tour of Random House and showed me a room filled floor to ceiling with Knopf books. As I drooled over all the titles, I said, “I would love to get published by Knopf.” My friend responded with, “Yeah, you and everybody else!” She meant no harm by these words. She was absolutely right, but it didn’t stop me from dreaming.

Years later when I was preparing my Vermont College of Fine Arts critical thesis on the function of prologues, I was most impressed with the prologue in THE BOOK THIEF by Marcus Zusak and contacted his editor, Erin Clarke, for an interview. She was so helpful and quick to respond to my emails that I had a strong feeling she would be great to work with. So when Pacific Coast Children’s Writers Workshop director Nancy Sondel heard I couldn’t participate in her YA master class workshop, I told her I would come if she brought in Erin Clarke. Well, Nancy delivered and that was how I got the opportunity to have Erin read the opening chapter of LARA’S GIFT. She liked it and invited me to submit the full manuscript. It was painful waiting for a response, but when the good news came I was beyond thrilled!
 
You have two borzoi, and your debut novel is about borzoi. What is it about that breed of dog that connects with you?
Annemarie author photoIt was by accident that I discovered borzoi. When I graduated with an MBA in international business and landed a job in Russia, I decided I would get a true Russian dog. I figured there was no dog more Russian than a borzoi so I set out to find one. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be but eventually I was gifted a puppy. Her name was Dasha and she was the most amazing dog. She was not only a great companion, but she opened so many doors for me. It’s because of her that LARA’S GIFT exists. That’s the kind of impression she had on me! One so strong a book came out of it!!

Lara’s Gift is set in Imperial Russia. What was involved in researching that time and place?
I spent about ten years of my life living and working in Russia and its neighboring countries so I have a good deal of knowledge about its history, language, and culture. I also have read numerous books on its history and literature.

One book in particular that helped me better understand life on the country estates in Russia breeding borzoi dogs was OBSERVATIONS ON BORZOI by Joseph B. Thomas about his travels in the early 1900s in search of the perfect borzoi in Russia to bring back to the United States. In his book, a wolf hunt was described.

Smith College Russian Professor Alexander Woronzoff-Dashkoff also inspired the story behind LARA’S GIFT from the questions he couldn’t answer when I learned about his connection to the famous Woronzova kennel. It is his family that started the Woronzova kennel that is cited in OBSERVATIONS ON BORZOI as being one of the top three. The other two were Gatchina, owned by Tsar Nicholas, and Perchino, owned by the Grand Duke Nicolai.

I also had numerous readers—including Russian historians, borzoi historians, and writers—read my story to help me strengthen the writing and the accuracy. One such opportunity was with YOU, Deborah, when you offered a free manuscript critique when you launched your blog, DearEditor.com. That was a terrific experience! (Readers, if you’re a writer and have a manuscript you’re looking to improve, I highly recommend Deborah. She’ll see where your story needs help and articulate a good game plan to get you going. I assign her WRITING YOUNG ADULT FICTION FOR DUMMIES to my students at UC Berkeley, Stanford, and Pixar.”)

What was it like to revise with an editor post-contract?
My big fear was that I would have to do a major revision of my story. For good or bad, I was relieved when Erin told me that she didn’t think LARA’S GIFT needed any major revisions. We primarily worked on tightening some scenes by cutting and by expanding others to tap into the emotion of the moment. She also had me change the ending a bit to one that is now much stronger than the original one I submitted to her. I have a tendency to want to protect my characters and Erin saw to it that Lara would struggle more.

I agreed with all of her suggestions and feel they made the story stronger. So I’m very grateful to Erin for her keen eye and respectful manner in asking for changes. She also let me keep the original title, DANCE WITH BORZOI, as well as Lara’s original name (Bohdana) up until the very end. It was really quite clever of her to hold off on these requested changes because it didn’t distract me from the real revision work that was needed on the story.

What’s next for you?
I am working on the companion novel to LARA’S GIFT. The working title is FROM RUSSIA WITH DASHA. It is set primarily in the Gorbachev era in both Northampton, Massachusetts, and Moscow, Russia, and told from two points of view.

Enter to win copies of Lara’s Gift and hear more from Annemarie at these stops on her blog tour:
Fido and Friend, Fiction Notes, Kissing the Earth, Quirk and Quill, Simple Saturday, Coffee with a Canine, Dog Reads, World Reads, Children’s Literature Network, Word Spelunking, Random Acts of Reading, The Hiding Spot, Beth Fish Reads

I’m giving away a FREE Substantive Edit* of one fiction manuscript. I can’t get Rafflecopter to work with my site format yet, so for this contest here are the rules and ways to enter:

  1. Your manuscript can be of ANY FICTION GENRE or FICTION CATEGORY (for adults or children, including picture books).
  2. Your manuscript must be COMPLETE.
  3. Your manuscript SHALL NOT EXCEED 80,000 WORDS.
  4. Manuscripts that do not meet these requirements will be disqualified.
  5. Deadline: MIDNIGHT, August 11, 2013, PST.
  6. Winner will be randomly selected using Randomizer.org and announced on August 12, 2013, on DearEditor.com and on the DearEditor.com Facebook and Google+ pages, and the winner will be notified directly via email.

TO ENTER:

One entry –  SEND EMAIL to DearEditor.com using the “Write to The Editor” button at the top of the blog or by clicking here. Type “Free Edit Giveaway” in the subject line. In the body of the email, include the TITLE of your manuscript and YOUR FULL NAME. DO NOT send your manuscript or any portion of it. (If you have any difficulty with the contact button, send an email entry directly to the-editor@deareditor.com.)

Bonus entry – SUBSCRIBE. DearEditor.com subscribers get a bonus entry by sending a second email with “Subscriber’s Bonus Giveaway Entry” in the subject line and your title and full name in the body. (Note: the Editor will verify!) Not a subscriber yet? Then subscribe now by clicking on the “Subscribe” button at the top of DearEditor.com and then email your second entry.

Extra bonus entries – SPREAD THE WORD. Blog, tweet, or otherwise electronically tell others about this giveaway to get additional entries. Send an email to DearEditor.com with “I Spread the Word!” in the subject line, and in the body include a link to your blog post or your Twitter address or your Facebook wall or whatever social media you used to spread the word. Don’t send screen-shots; attachments won’t be accepted. Include your title and full name in the body. Spread the word more than once? Then send an “I Spread the Word!” email for each one!

Anyone who doesn’t follow these rules will be disqualified, at the Editor’s discretion.

*In a “Substantive Edit,” the author receives general feedback about the manuscript’s overall pacing, organization, narrative voice, plot development/narrative arc, characterization, point of view, setting, delivery of background information, adult sensibility (children’s books only), and the synchronicity of age-appropriate subject matter with target audience, as the Editor determines appropriate and necessary after reviewing the entire manuscript. It is not a word-by-word, line-by-line “Line Edit.”

Disclaimer: The Editor does not share or in any other way use your contact information; it’s collected solely for winner contact purposes at the end of the giveaway.

Good luck!

re: What’s the Beef with Third Person Objective POV?

in Characterization/Point of View/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I’ve always liked the idea of writing in 3rd person objective, which never describes characters’ thought or feeling in favor of a cinematic feel. I’m planning to use it for my multiple-quest YA, but considering I’ve never seen a YA novel written in this POV, and that it’s not mentioned in your Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies, I wonder if it’s generally despised by readers/agents/editors.

Thanks for your thoughts on this,
Harry

Dear Harry…

YA readers in particular yearn to connect emotionally with characters. Hence the prevalence of first person (“I”) POV in YA fiction. Third person limited also lets us in on the thoughts and heart of a character. Third person omniscient can drop us into anyone and everyone’s heart and mind. But third person objective stays outside all characters, leaving readers to interpret character moods and thoughts from the action and dialogue. To avoid flat, emotionless storytelling that fails to engage readers, your “show, don’t tell” craftwork needs to fire on all cylinders. If you do pick this POV, use settings with features and props that characters can react to or act upon in truly revealing ways. Imagine two teens arguing, then one storming out a door. Now imagine that teen yanking the doorknob only to have it rip out in her hand. Does she sigh and rest her head on the door? Turn and make up? Kick the freakin’ door down? Force behavior that reveals emotion.

Happy writing!
The Editor

 

News: 1 Call for Submissions & 2 Publisher-Sponsored Contests

in New Adult Fiction/News/Picture Books/Submissions/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction/Uncategorized by

Dear Readers…

Summer seems to be bringing out the editors! In today’s post I share news about two publisher-sponsored contests and a call for submissions for a new imprint. Check out the rest of the post for details on these opportunities.

Heads up: I post news like this and other publishing happenings on the DearEditor.com Facebook page and DearEditor.com Google+ page. If you haven’t already “Liked” the page, consider checking it out. I do my best to keep the news and inspirational items flowing there.

Happy submitting!
The Editor

Picture book contest: LEE & LOW BOOKS announces its 14th annual “New Voices Award” for a children’s picture book manuscript by a writer of color. The winner receives a cash prize of $1000 and a standard publication contract. An Honor Award winner will receive a cash prize of $500. Click here to check out the Lee & Low Books announcement page.

Young Adult & New Adult fiction call for submissions: BLOOMSBURY PUBLISHING is announcing their new digital-only imprint Bloomsbury Spark with a call for YA and NA submissions. Bloomsbury Spark will publish fiction eBooks for teen, YA, and new adult readers. Its list will feature multiple genres: romance, contemporary, dystopian, paranormal, sci-fi, mystery, thriller, and more. The inaugural list launches in Autumn 2013. Click here for Bloomsbury Spark’s submission guidelines and email addresses.

New Adult fiction Pitch Contest: NA ALLEY, a blog for writers of New Adult fiction by writers of New Adult fiction, is hosting a Pitch Contest with Senior Editorial Director Karen Grove and Assistant Editor Nicole Steinhaus from Embrace, the New Adult line from Entangled Publishing. Entangled is interested in “submissions of any genre with main characters aged 18 to 24. ‘We’re looking for strong voices, characters who jump off the page, and unusual twists to stories. Fresh. Exciting. Bold.’” The contest starts June 5 at 1pm PST and closes June 12 at 11:59pm PST. To enter, you will be required to submit via comment at the NA Alley blog. Your manuscript must be complete and polished, and it must fall into the New Adult category. Check out the NA Alley Pitch Contest announcement post for details about what to include in the comment.

Good luck!

re: Is the Vietnam Era a Publishing Black Hole?

in General fiction/Submissions/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I’m writing a MG novel set in 1965 in Midwest America. While the story is about a little girl who wants a dog, the background story touches upon her brother, and the neighbor’s son, both in Vietnam. We learn about the war through letters written by her brother. Recently, I was told that 1965 isn’t historical, and that the Vietnam war is a black hole in the publishing world. Well, then! Is my novel doomed even though the story isn’t non-fiction, and isn’t only about Vietnam?

Sincerely,
Rachel

Dear Rachel…

Deborah Wiles’ award-winning MG novel Countdown (The Sixties Trilogy) proves there’s a place for historical fiction set in 1960s America. And yes, 1965 is “historical”—it’s three generations removed from your target readers, with a distinct cultural landscape. Not that I’m sure you have a historical fiction project. It could be general fiction, with your focus being on the girl and her dog wish rather than on the war. To Kill a Mockingbird isn’t officially “historical fiction” even though it’s set in 1930s Deep South. It’s a story about people, race, class, and coming of age. Lead with your themes and craft strengths when submitting, not your time period. As for “black hole,” don’t look a gift horse in the mouth! An unexploited spot in the market could be gold. Just ask J.K. Rowling, who shopped a wizard book when wizard books were barely a market blip. You may have a better shot than those in a genre that’s hot but saturated. Doomed? Hardly.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Help! Unromantic Me Can’t Write Romantic Scenes

in Characterization/General fiction/Romance Novels/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I’m trying to write a romantic scene for a YA novel that I’m writing but I’m the most unromantic person I’ve ever met. Do you have any advice as to how I can get over my unromanticness and write good romance scenes?

Sincerely,
Taylor

Dear Taylor…

Freeze! Put the flowers down. Back away from that box of chocolates. This isn’t about you, it’s about the characters. A great romantic scene grows out of the characters’ emotional connection with each other across all preceding scenes. Ask yourself what each character needs emotionally, then find ways for the other character to satisfy the need. Work this into each shared scene until, finally, a situation arises that brings that need to a climax. That’s when the romance rolls out. A girl who feels epically misunderstood will go weak in the knees when a boy shows that he knows her. Maybe he reads to her from her favorite book when she’s sad. The sound of his voice as it embodies her beloved characters is a turn-on. The way he holds the book in his hands—those gentle yet firm hands she so wants to hold her—is a turn-on. The way he trips over words yet plods onward shows his vulnerability … and is a turn-on. She can’t help it, she reaches out and makes the physical connection. Build up from emotional to physical and your characters (and readers!) will be putty in your hands.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Fictionalizing Real-Life Settings

in Creative Process/General fiction/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

My mc attends a design school in LA closely based on the Fashion Institute (FIDM) there, a fairly well known school. Should I change the name? Details regarding curriculum, location, and the facility will play into the story and her decision to be a student there. Am I allowed to use the material I received in my research trip to the school and NOT call it by its real name and not be “plagiarizing”?

Thanks,
K. R.

Dear K. R….

I see two issues here. Regarding plagiarism, don’t pull words from their promo materials, class materials, or even course titles. Summarize or write fictional materials and course titles. Most readers probably won’t know the difference—or care. More murky is the potential risk in using a private school’s name and staff. Must you be so real? Anybody can sue, forcing you to spend money and time defending yourself, even if their claims ultimately have no legs. Do you want to go down that path? Sure, writers do set stories in private institutions like Yale, using the school’s real name. It depends on how your particular institution feels about its portrayal in your story and how litigious it is when it comes to protecting its “brand.” If the school will get a good or an even portrayal in your book, why not ask its permission? Then you’d have a definitive yes or no. The school might love it! If you don’t want to ask, your safest bet is to fictionalize the elements.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Pitching a Novel as Multicultural

in General fiction/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor . . .

Can you refer to your novel as multicultural if only your secondary characters are from a different background, but not your protagonist?

Thank you,
T. J.

Dear T. J….

Readers of diverse cultures want to see themselves and their experiences in a book—and who wouldn’t love to be the star of the book? But if your secondary characters’ specific cultures factor into your plot or themes in significant ways, or if you offer substantial, meaningful looks inside their cultures, then multicultural lit fans will feel satisfied. Teachers, librarians, editors, agents, awards committees, and reviewers seek stories that expose readers to diverse cultural experiences. If you’ve got racial diversity but haven’t done anything significant with it, then “multicultural” is misleading for all. Google a multicultural literature list such as the CCBC’s “30 Multicultural Books Every Teen Should Know.” Can you truly see your book’s title alongside the others without feeling the need to justify its presence? If so, you’re good to go.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Making Sense of “High Concept”

in Creative Process/General fiction/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

There are so many definitions for “high concept” floating around. Can you help me understand what this really means?

M. Moon

Dear M….

Imagine a novel about two best friends in an all-girl high school. In this novel, the protagonist learns an agonizing lesson about true friendship, and she falls in love for the first time but is unable to tell the boy the truth about herself. There are juicy universal teen themes in the book, and it’s wonderfully written. NOW imagine that same story of friendship set in an all-girl school for spies, where each girl speaks 14 languages and knows 7 different ways to kill a man, and the protagonist’s love interest is an “ordinary” boy who thinks she is just an “ordinary” girl. This book has juicy universal teen themes and is wonderfully written, but the spy school adds a distinct, easily articulated concept that pops it out of the pack in a big way. That’s the difference between a “quiet” book and a “high concept” book. The book? Ally Carter’s fab I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You, from the Gallagher Girls series.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Refer to Parents by Name in Third Person POV?

in Point of View/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I’ve decided to revise a manuscript, changing it from first person to third person. When I’m in a section from Luke’s p.o.v. do I only refer to his father (Richard) as “Luke’s father” or “his father?” Or can I refer to the father as Richard? Normally, a child doesn’t refer to their father by first name.

Thanks,
Margo

Dear Margo…

Stick with “Luke’s father” and “his father.” Anything else will distract readers. Even though you’ve moved the camera out of Luke’s head and onto his shoulder, Luke remains the point of view character so it will still feel like he’s referring to his own father by name, and in our culture, kids only do that when they or the parents are trying to make some kind of statement. Unless a statement is exactly what you want, don’t risk having your readers chew over a relationship issue that doesn’t exist.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Tips for Writing Romantic Scenes that Aren’t Cliche?

in Dialogue/Romance Novels/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

The romantic parts in my YA novel are hard to write. They sound corny and feel cliche. Help?!

Elle S.

 

Dear Elle…

It’s tough to write the kissie stuff in a fresh way. And with the intense close-up on bodies and words, the burden of conveying the emotion can fall on the dialogue, making it sound hammy. Step back and look around your characters. The props in your setting can freshen up the scene with subtext. Subtext refers to what’s going on behind the spoken words and the obvious action. Subtext adds depth to a scene, undermining, contradicting, or reinforcing what’s being said. Imagine a scene where the couple makes out on a couch that the boy’s mean mom loves, making the girl struggle to push away images of his mom. This is great subtext for young lovers sneaking around behind parents’ backs. Or move them to his bed where a pillow sewed by his ex-girlfriend rests. You can almost write that scene around the pillow and all its significance. Settings and props particular to your couple’s history avoid cliché, and subtext liberates your dialogue.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Disguising the F-Word in YA Fiction

in Submissions/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I’m writing a book featuring a 13-year-old main character that has a lot of cursing. It’s completely integral to the story and the character’s arc, and she really can’t be older because of her maturity level. I have no issues with using abbreviations (e.g. f-ing, effing, etc.) so that the book can reach a wider audience, but I doubt I should do that in ms form. What do you think?

Sincerely,
Karol

Dear Karol…

Do in the manuscript as you intend to do in the final book. Your agent/editor needs to know exactly what you’ve got in mind in order to weigh the pros and cons with you in a useful way. And you will have that talk. Cursing may be absolutely right for your story, but it will also absolutely alienate some readers, so that discussion will be a part of the acquisition process. Using abbreviations is an option, but it won’t likely win you a wider audience because the people who would object to the real F-word will know it when they see it written as “effing”—and it’ll still rub them the wrong way. And then there’s the awkwardness factor. “F-ing” and “effing” can sound silly in a scene that shows a character mad or coarse enough to curse, which undercuts the effect of the swearing. If your character has to cuss, then let her cuss. Agents and editors know that some projects are edgier than others, and they take that into account when evaluating the cuss factor.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Tips for Non-Corny Romance Scenes?

in Romance Novels/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I am having trouble writing the romantic parts of my YA novel.  They sound kinda corny and feel cliché. Any advice?

Sincerely,
Struggling with the Smoochie Stuff

Dear Struggling…

You want your characters to get physical? Then get physical with them! First, move them to a new location. Chose an uncommon setting for the kids to get mushy, one that affects how they express their emotions. Think sneaky smooching behind a noisy car wash instead of a dreamy kiss at the school dance. Then, make their bodies do the talking. Hammy, overwrought, or melodramatic scenes happen when the dialogue does all the emoting. Because teens lack the words and experience to express themselves well in romantic situations, they try to read each other’s body language and become hyperconscious of their own bodies. Mine that! The characters can reveal their emotions through interactions with setting elements (like fussing with a skateboard wheel to avoid terrifying direct eye contact, or wiping stray car wash suds from their hair) and, yes, with their love interest’s body. It’s time to get physical, after all.

Happy writing!
The Editor

Revision Week BONUS Interview: Rachel Caine

in Creative Process/Guest Editors/Revision Week/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Readers…

The Editor is thrilled to present a BONUS Revision Week interview . . . with Rachel Caine! Rachel is the New York Times, USA Today, and internationally bestselling author of more than 30 novels, including the YA series The Morganville Vampires, the Weather Warden series, and the Outcast Season series. Rachel’s newest series, The Revivalist, launched in 2011 with Working Stiff, and her stand-alone YA novel The Great and Lamentable Tragedie releases this year.

Please join Rachel and The Editor for the Revision Week finale, and find out how to win the final “Free Partial Edit” from The Editor.

Rachel Caine has been honored with a Paranormal Pearl Award and an RT Booklovers Award, and was recently awarded a Career Achievement Award from Romantic Times. She has appeared as a guest at over 100 science fiction, fantasy, mystery and romance conventions and conferences over the past 20 years, including Dragon*Con, San Diego ComicCon, the World Fantasy Convention, and the World Science Fiction Convention. Rachel has been featured in several national publications including People magazine, Entertainment Weekly, and Vanity Fair, and on international, national, and local television and radio. Today Rachel talks about revising when you’re under the gun.

*After Rachel’s interview are instructions for entering today’s Free Partial Manuscript Edit Giveaway.

How many drafts does it typically take before you feel confident about the character and story choices you made?

I’m in a very odd position. With a book due every three months, I don’t have a lot of luxury to rework things—they need to be close to the target (very close!) on the first draft. With the schedule I and my editors have, I have to be (somewhat foolishly) confident of my first draft. (Watch Rachel talk about The Morganville Vampires series here.)

Which draft typically gets shown to your editor?

Generally, Version 1.5 gets sent in—I may have time for a fast read-through and tweak, but that’s pretty much it.

How much revising happens after the editor sees that draft?

None, until I get her notes; a LOT, after I receive those. I generally do a page one rewrite once I know what she sees as the strengths and weaknesses and problems, and comb through very thoroughly as I make those changes. Then, there are usually smaller questions that arise during copyedits that need solving. (Watch the Last Breath trailer here.)

Do you use critique partners?

Honestly, under my schedule, there’s no room for them. I’d love to have them, and when I have something that *isn’t* under that fierce spotlight of deadline, I do it. Generally, my agent (fellow author Lucienne Diver) also reads my manuscripts and gives me feedback while the editor is reviewing it as well, so I have additional input. I have nothing against critique partners, and have been a member of several groups, but it’s a timing issue now.

Can you share an experience of having a story problem you didn’t think you could solve but eventually did?

Oh, yes. I just finished copyedits for that book, Two Weeks’ Notice (Book 2 in the Revivalist series). My original first draft was solid, but it had a huge plot hole—I specifically said that a certain virus took a month to incubate and become active, and then I had it happening almost immediately to a second character. That seems like an easy fix, but what the second character did under the influence of the virus was critical … and it seemed like a dead end, because I needed that one-month incubation period for story purposes. I solved it by realizing that what the second character did could be transferred to a third, unrelated character who could plausibly have been infected a month before. And it worked!

What’s the most drastic thing you’ve done to a story while revising?

I once cut out half the book. HALF. Just took everything that happened after the “broken” scene and started over from scratch, because that scene was pivotal and everything after followed the wrong trail. It was difficult, but it worked in the end.

How do you know you’ve got the final draft?

There’s never a final draft for me, only the one you have to turn in because you’re out of time. But I guess if I had the luxury of having all the time in the world to do it, I think it would be the point at which I was bored with the story, where I didn’t want to play in that world anymore. There’s a certain fatigue that sets in, and I think if you’re reworking past that point, you’re not helping the story.

REVISION WEEK’S FINAL GIVEAWAY:

The Editor is giving away one last FREE PARTIAL EDIT of your manuscript. Here are the rules, with a bonus entry available to DearEditor.com subscribers:

  1. Your manuscript can be of ANY GENRE or CATEGORY (for adults or children, fiction or non-fiction), including picture books.
  2. The partial edit will cover the FIRST CHAPTER of your manuscript. In the case of a picture book entry, the edit will cover the entire manuscript—but the manuscript cannot exceed 7 double-spaced, 12-pt font pages.
  3. Deadline: MIDNIGHT tonight, March 11, 2012, PST.
  4. Winner will be randomly selected using Randomizer.org and announced on March 12, 2012, in the DearEditor.com comments section and on the DearEditor.com Facebook page, and the winner will be notified directly via email.

TO ENTER:

One entry –  SEND EMAIL to DearEditor.com using the “Write to The Editor” button at the top of the blog or by clicking here. Type “Free Partial Edit Giveaway” in the subject line. In the body of the email, include the TITLE of your manuscript and YOUR FULL NAME. (If you have any difficulty with the contact button, send an email entry directly to dear-editor@hotmail.com.) Do not attach or embed any part of your manuscript in the entry.

Bonus entry – SUBSCRIBE. DearEditor.com subscribers get a bonus entry by sending a second email with “Subscriber’s Bonus Giveaway Entry” in the subject line and your title and full name in the body. (Note: the Editor will verify!) Not a subscriber yet? Then subscribe now by clicking on the “Subscribe” button at the top of DearEditor.com and then email your second entry.

Anyone who doesn’t follow these rules will be disqualified, at the Editor’s discretion.

Disclaimer: The Editor does not share or in any other way use your contact information; it’s collected solely for winner contact purposes at the end of the giveaway.

Good luck . . . and thank you for a fun week!

Revision Week: Nathan Bransford

in Creative Process/Guest Editors/Revision Week/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Readers…

Today was scheduled to be the grand finale of Revision Week, but the event has been so fun that The Editor can’t resist posting a bonus author interview tomorrow. Stop by for that surprise guest, along with a bonus edit giveaway.

For today, we’ve got the wonderful Nathan Bransford, author of the Jacob Wonderbar middle grade series and former literary agent with Curtis Brown. Nathan offers a unique view of the revision process thanks to his experience both as an author and as an agent ushering writers to book deals with publishers.

We’ve also got the promised “FREE Full Manuscript Edit” Giveaway from The Editor!

Nathan Bransford is the author of Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow and Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe, the first two novels in a middle grade series about three kids and their planet-hopping adventures. He was formerly a literary agent with Curtis Brown Ltd. from 2002 to 2010, but is now a social media director and the writer of the popular blog about writing and publishing, www.nathanbransford.com.

*After Nathan’s interview are instructions for entering today’s Free Full Manuscript Edit Giveaway.

How many drafts does it typically take before you feel confident about the character and story choices you’ve made?

This is a tricky question for me actually because I tend to edit as I go and don’t typically go through discreet drafts. But the novel is usually done for me after the third or fourth major overhaul.

Which draft typically gets shown to your editor?

Whatever draft it is where I can’t bear to look at it anymore and have exhausted every possible idea.

How much revising happens after the editor sees that draft?

It depends on the book, but usually two major rounds of revision.

Do you use critique partners?

No, I don’t show it to anyone before I send it to my editor. I’m fortunate to have a really fantastic editor, Kate Harrison, who helps me mold the book into a much better form once I’ve gotten as far as I can go on my own.

As an agent, did you ever work through revisions with authors before submitting them to publishers?

Definitely, I was a very hands-on agent. I always thought it was important to make sure the manuscript was as good as possible before going out to editors.

Do agents work through revisions with writers before agreeing to represent them?

It depends on the agent. When I was an agent I preferred to work with authors on an exclusive basis but without an offer of representation in place. That way we could both see if we were happy with how the revision process was going and our working relationship and formalize the relationship once we were confident in the manuscript. But situations vary.

Can you share an experience of having a story problem you didn’t think you could solve but eventually did?

When I started Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe I had this particular opening that was how I had always envisioned beginning the novel. But when I wrote it out and sent it to my agent and editor… it just didn’t work. I had to completely re-imagine the opening and start over from scratch. It was daunting at the time and I had to kind of take a deep breath and regain my confidence, but it was definitely the right choice. The revised opening is much stronger and I’m so fortunate I had an opportunity to take a new approach. (Watch the Jacob Wonderbar trailer here.)

What’s the most drastic revising experience you’ve been part of?

I had one client where I advised her to completely change the genre of her novel and revise the plot to match. It was a ton of work for the author but it worked! The new version of the novel ended up selling and doing really well. Sometimes at the heart of a draft there’s a great novel that needs to be brought to the surface and polished. (Hear Nathan’s thoughts about “pitching,” videoed at the 2010 San Miguel Writer’s Workshop here.)

How do you know you’ve got the final draft?

When my editor says it’s done.

TODAY’S GRAND PRIZE GIVEAWAY:

The Editor is giving away a FREE FULL MANUSCRIPT EDIT of your manuscript. The edit will be a “Substantive Edit,” in which the author receives general feedback about the manuscript’s overall pacing, organization, narrative voice, plot development/narrative arc, characterization, point of view, setting, delivery of background information, adult sensibility (children’s books only), and the synchronicity of age-appropriate subject matter with target audience, as The Editor determines appropriate and necessary after reviewing the entire manuscript. It is not a word-by-word, line-by-line “Line Edit.”

Here are the rules:

  1. Your manuscript can be of ANY GENRE or CATEGORY (for adults or children, fiction or non-fiction), including picture books.
  2. Your manuscript must be COMPLETE and SHALL NOT EXCEED 90,000 WORDS. In the case of a picture book entry, the manuscript cannot exceed 7 double-spaced, 12-pt font pages.
  3. Deadline: MIDNIGHT tonight, March 10, 2012, PST.
  4. Winner will be randomly selected using Randomizer.org and announced on March 11, 2012, in the DearEditor.com comments section and on the DearEditor.com Facebook page, and the winner will be notified directly via email.

TO ENTER:

One entry –  SEND EMAIL to DearEditor.com using the “Write to The Editor” button at the top of the blog or by clicking here. Type “Free Full MS Edit Giveaway” in the subject line. In the body of the email, include the TITLE of your manuscript and YOUR FULL NAME. (If you have any difficulty with the contact button, send an email entry directly to dear-editor@hotmail.com.) Do not attach or embed any part of your manuscript in the entry.

Bonus entry – SUBSCRIBE. DearEditor.com subscribers get a bonus entry by sending a second email with “Subscriber’s Bonus Giveaway Entry” in the subject line and your title and full name in the body. (Note: the Editor will verify!) Not a subscriber yet? Then subscribe now by clicking on the “Subscribe” button at the top of DearEditor.com and then email your second entry.

Extra bonus entries – SPREAD THE WORD. Blog, tweet, or otherwise electronically tell others about this Revision Week giveaway to get additional entries today. Send an email to DearEditor.com with “I Spread the Word!” in the subject line, and in the body include a link to your blog post or your Twitter address or your Facebook wall or whatever social media you used to spread the word. Don’t send screen-shots; attachments won’t be accepted. Include your title and full name in the body. Spread the word more than once? Then send an “I Spread the Word!” email for each one!

Anyone who doesn’t follow these rules will be disqualified, at the Editor’s discretion.

Disclaimer: The Editor does not share or in any other way use your contact information; it’s collected solely for winner contact purposes at the end of the giveaway.

Good luck!

Revision Week: Robin LaFevers

in Creative Process/Guest Editors/Revision Week/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Readers…

DearEditor.com’s Revision Week continues today with Robin LaFevers, the author of fourteen books for young readers, including the Theodosia series, the Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist series, and the much buzzed-about new His Fair Assassin series.

Please join Robin and The Editor for Day 3 of Revision Week, and find out how to win today’s “Free Partial Edit”from The Editor.

Robin LaFevers was raised on a steady diet of fairy tales, Bulfinch’s mythology, and 19th century poetry, so it’s not surprising that she grew up to be a hopeless romantic. She has also spent a large portion of her life being told she was making up things that weren’t there, which only proves she was destined to write fiction. Robin’s most recent book, Grave Mercy, is a YA romance about assassin nuns in medieval France and has received three starred reviews and is a 2012 Indie Next Spring Pick. Robin was writing the final words of Grave Mercy’s follow-up (Book Two in the His Fair Assassins series) when The Editor asked her to participate in Revision Week. Robin steadfastly refused to answer a single question until she’d typed “THE END” on the draft for her editor. How’s that for maintaining focus?! Thankfully, Robin made her deadline and is now free to share her hard-earned insights on the revision process.

*After Robin’s interview are instructions for entering today’s Free Partial Edit Giveaway.

You jokingly dubbed yourself the Queen of Multiple Drafts. How many drafts does it typically take before you feel confident about the character and story choices you made?

Oh gosh, that really depends on the book and how long it’s been percolating in my head! Since I tend to divide books into acts, my process usually involves working on act one for a number of drafts—four to five at the least, although sometimes it can be upward of seven. In those revisions, I really work on nailing down the character’s voice, the tone of the story, the world, and the major components of the character’s internal arc—what they think they want vs. what they need, the whys of all that, and then trying to understand and brainstorm what keeps them from achieving that. I can’t move on in the story until I get all that figured out. With the Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist books, I did a lot of that in my head before I ever set pen to paper, so only needed a two or three drafts. With Grave Mercy, I worked all that out on the page in a daunting number of revisions.

When I do it that way, I find the rest of the book requires fewer revisions—maybe only three or four. And of course, once I reach The End and have the entire book complete, I have to go back and massage the first act so it all fits together, which is another revision or two.

Do you go through fewer drafts when you’re a few books into a series?  

Yes, thank goodness! And that is because so many of the elements are already established—the character’s voice, the essential personality, the players, the world. That and because those are written on contract with hard and fast deadlines.

Which draft gets shown to your editor? How much revising happens after the editor sees that draft?  

Which draft I show to my editor depends on whether it is part of a continuing series or not. I don’t like to write books on spec, so if it’s a new project, I will typically have as polished and perfect a version of the book as I can. Or as polished and perfect as I can make it at that point in time. A critical part of my process is letting the book lay fallow for a while between drafts. When I do that, I find my subconscious does a huge amount of the heavy lifting for me, which always makes things easier.

So, for new projects probably anywhere from the seventh or tenth draft gets shown to my editor. For continuing projects, probably the third or fourth draft.

Now, the upside to doing so many drafts myself is that I usually only have to do one revision for my editor, and usually a fairly light revision at that.

For my most current project, the second book in the His Fair Assassin trilogy, I had to turn in a much earlier draft than I am used to and I have to say, it makes me hugely uncomfortable. Like showing up at a business meeting in my jammies. In fact, I was so twitchy about it that I sent along a copy of my revision notes—all the things I knew still needed work—to my editor, just to try and streamline the process and let her know I didn’t think all the manuscript’s bald spots were okay.

Do you use critique partners?  

I don’t use critique partners because it isn’t helpful to me to show my work while it’s in progress. I do use beta readers though (although that may be a matter of semantics) who read the entire manuscript and give me their thoughts. I find them to be enormously helpful. For me, beta readers are highly trusted readers (most often writers) who have similar reading tastes as I do and like/read in the genre that I’m writing. They are also, and perhaps most importantly, able to help me write the story I’m trying to write as opposed to giving suggestions on how to write it as if they were writing it—which of course would make it an entirely different book. That’s a really important distinction though, because oftentimes we can get too much feedback or feedback that is at crosspurposes to what we’re trying to accomplish. So I pick my first readers very carefully.

I usually hand off the entire manuscript to these readers after a few drafts but before the final draft—that way the manuscript is still malleable in my mind and hasn’t “set” yet. Sometimes, if I get it all polished up and think of it as “ready”, making big changes can be too hard!

Do you ever share your manuscripts with young readers to test them out?  

No, I haven’t really done that since my kids have grown up, but when they were little, I definitely used them for guinea pigs!

What’s the most drastic thing you’ve done to a story while revising?  

Oh, merde! I think I told you I have done countless drafts of Grave Mercy, mostly because there were so many story choices available, it took me forever to figure out which story I wanted to tell. Then once I did, I got to page 200 and realized that third person POV simply wasn’t working. So I had to change the entire book to first person, which is much, MUCH more than simply changing pronouns. There is an entirely different flow to language and narration when you change POV. The manuscript flowed much better, but I was still having problems. It wasn’t until page 350 (of a 420-page mss) that I realized the darn thing had to be in first person PRESENT tense. That was a giant scream heard round the world, let me tell you. And writing in first person present is like speaking an entirely different language, so I had to completely rewrite the whole damn thing. (View the Grave Mercy trailer here.)

Which taught me an important lesson: experiment with tenses and POVs in the early stages of a book—just don’t set your POV choice on default mode.

How do you know you’ve got the final draft?

When it is sent to the printer.

Seriously. I could fiddle and tweak forever. In fact, I have been known to tweak and edit on a printed copy of the book before doing a reading. But there is a point where you aren’t necessarily making it better—just making it different. Or so I try to tell myself.

TODAY’S GIVEAWAY:

Today The Editor is giving away another FREE PARTIAL EDIT of your manuscript. Note that the winner of today’s giveaway IS eligible for Saturday’s grand prize Full Manuscript Edit Giveaway. Here are the rules, with a bonus entry available to DearEditor.com subscribers:

  1. Your manuscript can be of ANY GENRE or CATEGORY (for adults or children, fiction or non-fiction), including picture books.
  2. The partial edit will cover the FIRST CHAPTER of your manuscript. In the case of a picture book entry, the edit will cover the entire manuscript—but the manuscript cannot exceed 7 double-spaced, 12-pt font pages.
  3. Deadline: MIDNIGHT tonight, March 7, 2012, PST.
  4. Winner will be randomly selected using Randomizer.org and announced on March 8, 2012, in the DearEditor.com comments section and on the DearEditor.com Facebook page, and the winner will be notified directly via email.

TO ENTER:

One entry –  SEND EMAIL to DearEditor.com using the “Write to The Editor” button at the top of the blog or by clicking here. Type “Free Partial Edit Giveaway” in the subject line. In the body of the email, include the TITLE of your manuscript and YOUR FULL NAME. (If you have any difficulty with the contact button, send an email entry directly to dear-editor@hotmail.com.) Do not attach or embed any part of your manuscript in the entry.

Bonus entry – SUBSCRIBE. DearEditor.com subscribers get a bonus entry by sending a second email with “Subscriber’s Bonus Giveaway Entry” in the subject line and your title and full name in the body. (Note: the Editor will verify!) Not a subscriber yet? Then subscribe now by clicking on the “Subscribe” button at the top of DearEditor.com and then email your second entry.

Anyone who doesn’t follow these rules will be disqualified, at the Editor’s discretion.

Disclaimer: The Editor does not share or in any other way use your contact information; it’s collected solely for winner contact purposes at the end of the giveaway.

Good luck!

re: Multiple Character Quests

in Characterization/Plot/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I’m new to writing and currently working on a YA book.  I have three main characters in my book that will be going on different quests.  How should I handle each quest in one book or should they each have a book of there own – meeting up at the end?  Thanks for you help!

Kathi

Dear Kathi…

Not one to take the easy path, eh? Try some tactics authors use when they have two protagonists with separate storylines for much of the book: 1) Give the characters equal screen time, with their chapters appearing in a regular sequence. 2) Keep the chapters short so readers won’t think you’ve abandoned a character for too long. 3) Transition out of one character’s chapter and into another with a common element. For example, end a chapter with Character A climbing onto a bus with resolve, and start the next chapter with Character B climbing down from her treehouse with resolve. This will create a sense of continuity. You don’t want readers feeling like you’re jumping from character to character.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Bumping Up My Word Count

in Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

My MG is around 20,000 words. Too long to be a chapter book and too short to be in the ideal range for MG… so do I cut and change the vocabulary to make it a chapter book or do I try and expand on the characters, add scenes, to make it more like a solid MG?

Thank you!
Franziska

Dear Franziska…

It’s unlikely that the plot, themes, and characters you designed to sustain a novel-length story are a good fit for a chapter book. Chapter books are written for a very specific audience (6- to 10-year-olds transitioning from beginning readers, with a sophistication level far below typical MG fare) and are rarely one-off books like your single title would be. The chapter book market is dominated by series. Look to flesh out your scenes, and consider adding depth to your setting. But don’t pad for the sake of padding, as you may torpedo your pacing and tension. The Newbery Medal-winning The Midwife’s Apprentice is just 22,000 words. Sometimes a short novel is a short novel because it’s supposed to be.

Happy writing!
The Editor

News: eBook Winner; Free Online Workshop with the Editor

in Giveaways/News/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Readers…

DearEditor.com is happy to announce the winner of the How to Promote Your Children’s Book eBook Giveaway, along with details about a free online YA Fiction workshop with The Editor.

Free online YA Fiction workshop with The Editor: Feb 21, 22, & 23 on the Institute of Children’s Literature website. The drop-in Q&A-format workshop takes place on the ICL’s message board, which anyone can read (no registration required). If you want to post a question, you do need to register (for FREE) by sending email to jan.fields@forums.institutechildrenslit.com with the username you want. Check out the ICL’s Guest Speaker archives while you’re there.

How to Promote Your Children’s Books eBook Giveaway winner: Julie K.

For more chances to win How to Promote Your Children’s Books, visit other stops on Katie Davis’s blog tour:

Also, check out Katie’s podcast “Promoting Your Book” (with a guest appearance by The Editor). Episode description here: http://katiedavis.com/how-to-promote-your-book/. Or click here to hear it directly.

 

re: I Refuse to Believe Epistolary Novels are “Dead”

in Submissions/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I’ve written a contemporary YA novel in epistolary format. All of the professional feedback I’ve received is positive (I even won an award for the 1st 15 pages). Most agents tell me the writing is excellent, BUT they are passing strictly due to the format. A favorite author told me that epistolary novels are dead. Dead? I don’t believe it. How do I find agents/editors who will consider an epistolary novel?

T. S.

Dear T.S.…

Interest in epistolary novels has waned in YA editorial circles, it’s true. But often a format or category isn’t so much “dead” as just in need of a fresh spin to jolt it out of the doldrums. If you’re committed to this format, you’d better be offering something eye-catching in your concept or plot because, as much as I hate to write this, “excellent writing” isn’t enough to break anyone into a stagnant niche. Look for agents who rep projects with your kind of concept, tone, and audience, then emphasize those in your query: “I’ve got this great novel about X”, not “I’ve got this great epistolary novel.” If it’s still a no-go, why not recast your great concept, cast, and plot as a traditional narrative? Loyalty should be to story over format.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Girl Writes Boy . . . Bad Idea?

in Characterization/Point of View/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I write both non-fiction picture books and boy-centric middle grade novels. I publish the non-fiction under my full name, but should I consider using initials for the novels, since I’m not the same gender as the MC? Will it matter to the reader?

Thank you for your thoughts on this!
Alison

Dear Alison…

Plenty of ladies write male narratives, and vice versa. Don’t sweat that—not for MG fiction, anyway. Now, if you were a guy writing a female lead in a romance for adult women… but that’s another marketplace altogether. Don’t hide your gender. The protagonist for my 1st person MG novel Big Mouth is a boy, and my very girly name is emblazoned across the cover. If anything, the question “Can a girl write a convincing boy?” is great fodder for discussion when I’m presenting to classes. Many people advocate writing what you don’t know. Just confirm that your character’s sensibility is convincingly male by having some fellas read your manuscript. They’ll let you now if your dude’s choices or judgments are too girly.

Happy writing!
The Editor

Re: What’s the Right Style for a Crossover Novel?

in Narrative Voice/Publishing Biz/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I am attempting my first manuscript aimed at 18 to 30 year olds; is there a particular writing style I should look at, or can I blend young adult fiction with adult fiction to make it work?

Sincerely,
Alana

Dear Alana…

Got Twilight’s success in mind? Careful! Plenty of writers crave the expanded audience of a crossover novel, but writing one on purpose is a tough gig. The hitch: It’s virtually impossible to aim one story at a demographic spanning 12 years. Different generations, different life experiences, different sensibilities and sophistication. You must pick one specific target audience and hope the other goes for it. Since young people lack the wisdom and self-reflection that adults gain from experience, you won’t capture many teens with a novel written with a post-college, 25- to 30-year-old narrative sensibility. Your best bet is to write for upper teens (16+) with subjects/themes that can engage adults, too. The narrative should be less self-reflexive and the protagonist less focused on his/her role in the Grand Scheme than an adult would be. Check The Hunger Games: A teen is poised to save her world, yet she’s (understandably) focused on her existence and her love interests for much of the 3-book series. The themes of power, survival, and revolution cross this over to an older audience.

Happy writing!
The Editor

Re: Do I Pitch My Crossover Novel to YA Agents Only?

in Submissions/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I think my coming-of-age novel is a crossover book, appealing to young adults and adults. Do I mention that in a query letter? Do I market it primarily to agents who are looking for YA?

Sincerely,
Valerie

Dear Valerie…

Target YA agents and editors. They are well informed about the adult market and understand crossover potential when they see it. Agents and editors who specialize in fiction for adults tend to be limited in their knowledge of the YA realm and are more likely to see the audiences and marketplaces as separate. It’s okay for you to say that you think the book has crossover potential in your query letter. Stress that the issues are broader than pimples and proms, and that the richness of your ideas has the potential to satisfy all ages.

Happy writing!
The Editor

Re: Is 3rd Person POV Dead in MG Fiction?

in Point of View/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

Many editors say they are looking for MG novels with a strong voice. So many examples they cite are in first person. Is there still room for 3rd person narration? Would you differentiate the strengths and weaknesses of both.

Sincerely,
Sondra

Dear Sondra…

The scale does tilt lower on the side of 1st person POV in MG fiction, but the 3rd person side is by no means empty. The reason for the imbalance is readers themselves: tweens tend to focus inward as they really struggle with who they are for the first time. It suits their mindset to be inside a character’s head, experiencing the story for themselves. Third person POV risks making them feel a step removed from emotions and events. A benefit of choosing 3rd person is that you get to describe things outside the character. Don’t base your POV choice on the tilt of a scale. Write one of your scenes in each POV, then ask yourself which reveals more about your protagonist’s personality. Your comfort writing the POV matters, but not as much as the character revelations.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Writing YA Historical Fiction with a Reflective Adult Narrator

in Narrative Voice/Point of View/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I am in a quandary about a historical novel I’ve started. I want to show how one woman was captured by the Shawnee, rescued, and married her rescuer. But I also want to show how another woman has a burden for her brother and the fate of her tribe at that time. Ultimately I imagine the women meeting again 20 years later. I feel there are 2 ways of life to show. Is it best to write about them from an older age looking back or to take them from youth when one was captured at 14 and the other was about 20? I am old (75) and wonder if I will be able to capture their young voices and feelings.

—Jane

 

Dear Jane…

Adult narrators who reflect back may fall into the trap of filtering their teen experiences through their adult sensibilities. That is, now that they’re wiser, they’ll comment on why they or others chose to do what they did. That’s more likely an adult book than YA. Teen protagonists aren’t that mature yet, so if you write your ladies as young people, they’ll be more likely to just judge, act, and react, without considering their or other characters’ true motivations first. They’ll mature by the end of their adventures, but they won’t start out that way. You can save their eventual meet-up for an epilogue.

Happy Writing!
The Editor

re: Forcing Readers to Read It Your Way

in Dialogue/Narrative Voice/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

To me the use of ellipses, em dashes, and the use of italics to emphasis specific words are very much a part of both the author’s voice but more importantly the character’s voice. Some critiquers have said nothing about the amount of each of these included in my story, while others have had a fit. I want to say, “Have you talked with any teenagers recently, especially teen girls?” My female main character’s POV includes many more these style type things than does the male character’s POV. It’s part of what’s different about their voice.

Would LOVE your take on this,
Beth

Dear Beth…

You’re trying to write the teen accent, girl, and written accents almost always distract. The writing becomes about using typographical trickery to force the printed words to make certain sounds in readers’ minds, and the reading experience becomes a conscious effort to read the accent rather than focus on the content. Distraction city. Readers should sink into your story, not recite it. Don’t get me wrong, total thumbs up for trying to create an authentic teen voice. But don’t confuse “authentic” with mimicry. Real-life talking is a mess of meandering, stuttery gobbledygook. Writers approximate real-life talking styles to keep their fiction accessible even as they create voice. A book full of forced accent like “Oh my gawd! I was so, like, mortified—what with being a girl and all…”, can overwhelm readers, especially kids. Stop forcing it. Instead, use action between the lines of dialogue to create emphasis, and use repetition and hyperbole: “I full-on dive into the car and then ball up on the floorboard with my jacket over my head. Kill me now. Just kill me now and get it over with. Life at Derkson High is a living nightmare.” Less distracting, more dynamic, totally teen.

Happy writing!
The Editor

Guest Editor Gary Soto re: Heeding Your Creative Instinct

in Creative Process/Guest Editors/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I have a short story that my writing group thinks could be a whole novel. I worked hard to distill this character’s story down to its essentials . . . I can’t seem to get my head around expanding it meaningfully. I feel like I’m adding stuff for the sake of adding pages. I hear about great novels that started off as short stories. What’s their secret?

Thank you,
M.

Dear M.…

If you’re in a writers group, you may be expected to heed advice of others—that’s why you’re there, right? To listen, absorb, learn from others who are practicing this art of ours. However, I find that some will suggest revisions where revisions aren’t needed, new titles when the old titles will suffice, introduction of more tension (more screaming please!) when the story is adequately tense, etc. Now a colleague in the group—perhaps as he or she set her coffee cup down—has blurted, “Hey, this might be good as a novel, not a story?” Everyone chirps, “Great idea. You go, girl!”

I sense worry. I sense doubt. I side with you as we remember the maxim “When in doubt, remain in doubt.” In our art—fiction and short story writing—we live by hunches, what talent we are given, perhaps even the temperament that defines us—you, by nature, may color a smaller canvas. What’s wrong with that? This is you. You are not the Jackson Pollack of large canvases! You have a hunch that what you have done is a short story and will remain a short story. Are you being difficult? Are you losing an opportunity for a larger work? Probably not.

In short, if you try to lengthen the story into novel length, you’ll probably discover that it’s tough going—and, yes, those are tears of frustration falling on your keypad. My advice: recognize that the story is done. Now begin something else.

Stay strong,
Guest Editor Gary Soto

Gary Soto is the author of many much-loved middle grade and young adult novels, short story collections, poetry collections, and plays, including the acclaimed Baseball in April and Other Stories. He’s just published the new short story collection for young readers called Hey 13! and his first e-novel, When Dad Came Back. For more about Gary and his books, visit www.GarySoto.com.

re: Is Your Internal Dialogue Telling You Something?

in Dialogue/Narrative Voice/Point of View/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I’m writing a young adult novel in first person that alternates between the 2 main characters’ POV. I’m getting conflicting advice from critiquers about the use of internal dialogue—those not very into YA fiction say I have too much; those accustomed to YA fiction don’t comment on the internal thoughts OR say I need more! Is it a genre thing?

Sincerely,
Beth

Dear Beth…

More intriguing to me than the category split is the fact that all your critiquers commented on the internal dialogue. Something’s off. I.D. is essentially dialogue that reaches the tip of a character’s tongue but gets bitten back (Not in this lifetime, loser); it should spill out as naturally as a verbal comment. Natural and judicious use of I.D. is not so conspicuous. I suspect your characters’ talking voices have more personality than their narrative voices and that’s why you’re writing lots of it—distracting some readers with its overuse while wowing others with its zing. Put that zing in the narrative voice! Try it. Rewrite a scene as if the character is next to you, talking about that day. Not describing it, but talking about it the way he’d talk to himself. Different? I bet.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Opportunities in Children’s Book Categories

in Creative Process/Picture Books/Publishing Biz/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I have ideas for both fiction and nonfiction children’s books. What category is easier to break into?

Thanks,
Amy

Dear Amy…

“Easy” is no word for publishing. The economy and industry changes have publishers proceeding cautiously. Embrace “opportunity” instead. If your nonfiction ideas are curriculum-based, you’ll rely on institutional sales (mainly schools and libraries) where budgets are being slashed, slimming opportunities there. Nonfiction picture books with rhythmic narrative are finding homes, though, appealing to institutional and consumer buyers alike. Consider Me…Jane, a picture book biography that offers a simple, rhythmic story and leaves the facts for the backmatter. Children’s fiction has opportunities: YA can make money, MG sales are up, and the market for fictional picture books is improving. But “opportunity” becomes “success” only if you’re ready for it. Developing ideas into fresh, standout additions to any category is hard work, and hard work only happens when you’re passionate enough about an idea to pursue it doggedly. So add “passion” to your word list, too.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Social Networking Prior to Book Release?

in Promotion/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I have an upper middle-grade novel about a boy struggling in the sport of gymnastics due for release this fall. With the Olympics coming next summer and an Olympian backing my book, how should I begin to get the word out there?

Thank you,
Christi

Dear Christi…

There’ll be Olympics book round-ups galore—and you have unique opportunity for mainstream promotion. I happen to remember you and this project from a conference critique, so I know you’re raising a gymnast and you’re a teacher. You can pitch major online, print, and TV/radio media as an expert/ real mom with insight into raising Olympic hopefuls, an angle that’ll be in high demand. Your book will get plugged in the process. Work that angle in home schooling networks since Olympic hopefuls are often home-schooled. Do blog tours there and in other blog communities such as sports and parenting. You even have time to pitch and write articles for magazines with their long lead times. Blog and tweet about all these, gaining followers. Work that Olympian backer in where you can.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Bildungsroman v. Coming-of-Age Novels

in Narrative Voice/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

It seems that a number of fairytales and fantasy stories are bildungsroman—the protagonist either grows to adulthood, or is an older teenager (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, the Princess Bride, etc.). Would these stories be considered for adults or children?

Sincerely,

Lucy

Dear Lucy…

Young people certainly have their coming-of-age novels, but the narrators of those books don’t present the stories as if they’re investigating why and how the heroes became the adults they are, which is a quality of bildungsroman novels (think David Copperfield). Young adult novels have a more in-the-now feel, with the main characters’ maturation usually taking place within a short time frame, such as a single year of school. Rarely do they cover a full childhood or young adulthood as Dickens does in his classic. Novels featuring longer maturation windows can still be for kids if their narratives have a youthful sensibility. That sensibility is arguably the biggest marker of a young adult book. Adults are already self-aware and consider why they and others behave as they do (even if they don’t always exercise that mature perspective!); adult novels with this mature sensibility are not “young adult books” even when they feature young heroes. In contrast, young people are just starting to shed their self-centric perspectives and tend to judge and act without first considering how their actions will affect others. The heroes of their novels may reach a higher level of self-awareness by the end of their novels, but they don’t start out that way and their narratives reflect that. So, when you’re considering whether a story is “for” adults or children, weigh its narrative sensibility.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: How Do I Revise a Third Draft?

in Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

Now I’m ready to work on the 3rd draft of my YA novel. I’ve never been here before. How do I do this? Should I start over for the 3rd time or just edit parts of it that need work? Is this still the cutting down on characters/bettering the plot time? How do you know when you’re done?

Sincerely,

Melody

Dear Melody…

Time for outside input. Get into a YA fiction critique group, sign up for a critique with an author/editor/agent at a conference, or hire a freelance editor. Fresh, knowledgeable eyes can see what you’ve become blind to. In the meantime, work out the kinks item by item. Do a pass just for characters, making sure they grow through the story; a pass for plot, ensuring that all events build upon each other to move the plot forward; a pass for dialogue, checking the flow and the balance between talking and telling; a pass for setting, giving readers enough to picture the place and characters to act on or react to; and a pass for word choice, replacing dull words with dynamic ones.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Trash It or Tweak It?

in Narrative Voice/Submissions/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I have been sending out my middle grade fantasy. I was writing to my 8-year-old but the 2 rejections I received speak about voice. I myself am moved by the voice in children’s books and can certainly attain A GOOD voice in a new book, but should I throw this one away? Believe the two rejections?

Sincerely,

Gemini

Dear Gemini…

Two is too few, too soon for the circular file. Use the feedback about voice to re-examine your ms instead. Young fantasies often have a more formal narrative style and can feel stilted. Make sure you’ve chosen dynamic, evocative words and phrases even if you’re stringing them together in a more proper style. Does your character “close the door” when he could “use his hand to smother the click of latch against plate” instead? Is he “easily frightened” or does he “fear the worst because small children easily assume the boogie man or fanged creatures”? Enrich a formal fantasy voice by going one step beyond the first phrase that pops into your head.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: The Right Words Matter More Than the Right Word Count

in Formatting/Punctuation/Grammar/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I am writing a YA novel, I think. (I guess it might be considered middle grade.) How many words are these novels usually? I’m past half way and mine is 14,000 words. Am I on the right track?

Sincerely,

Tina

Dear Tina…

You’re fine. MG fiction ranges between 25,000 and 45,000 words. But forget that for now. You need to focus on definitively identifying your audience. You must know your audience in order to write a story that successfully connects with them. Is your topic right for 9- to 12-year-olds? How about your narrative sensibility? That is, does the story express concerns that reflect a middle grader’s way of viewing the world? Kids that age are typically focused inward, struggling to find out who they are. They shouldn’t sound too self-aware by analyzing themselves or others. Let them judge and act quickly — and then face the fallout.

Happy writing!

The Editor

Guest Editor Barrie Summy re: Red Herrings in MG Mysteries?

in Guest Editors/Plot/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

Do you think red herrings and foreshadowing are important in middle grade novels? I’m working on a spooky mystery and am wondering if I need to pay more attention to adding red herrings. It seems like a tough element to learn. Thanks for any input you can give me.

Sincerely,
Lynn

Dear Lynn…

Yes and yes. I say go for both red herrings and foreshadowing in middle-grade novels.

A few red herrings tossed into the mix add to the fun and complexity and give your mystery those delightful twists and turns. You definitely don’t want a straight road leading directly from the problem to the solution. Sure, by the end of the mystery, you want your readers to feel that even if they didn’t crack the case, they could’ve. And, of course, some readers will actually solve it. Red herrings ensure that not every reader solves it. 🙂

I’m a huge fan of foreshadowing because it enriches the book and makes it hang together better. Will your average middle-grade reader notice foreshadowing? Perhaps not. But it will still make your story that much better.

Hope this helps. Good luck with your writing, Lynn. Middle-grade mysteries are great! (Not that I’m biased…)

-Guest Editor Barrie Summy

Barrie Summy is the author of the popular young adult mystery series I So Don’t Do: I So Don’t Do Mysteries, I So Don’t Do Spooky, and I So Don’t Do Makeup. The fourth mystery in the series, I So Don’t Do Famous, pubs May 10, 2011. In it, Sherry goes to Hollywood and figures out who’s breaking into celebrities’ homes. For more about Barrie and Sherry, go to www.barriesummy.com.

re: Youth Is in the Details

in Narrative Voice/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I’ve received some rejections for my middle grade manuscript. One agent said my voice is not “as kid-friendly as it could be.” Do you have ideas for addressing that?

Sincerely,

R.

Dear R….

Indeed I do: Try wallowing in the details. Adults like to sum up issues and situations while kids focus on the details of those issues and situations. Here, consider this: “Toby detested school and thought it useless. In his experience, going to school was about writing essays and memorizing speeches about foreign cultures. That wasn’t what his life was about. Toby’s life was about working at home on the farm with Uncle Paul and Rudy.” This kid-friendlier version dwells on the specific stuff that bugs and excites him, making his emotional gripes very tangible for young readers: “No way, no how was Toby going to school. School was all letters and sums and pointing pointers at a big old map on the wall that no one could even read because the names were all in French or Pig Latin or somesuch. That wasn’t real life. Real life was here, on the farm, swinging axes into rails like Uncle Paul and Rudy and cussing at the cows. That was real life. That’s what Toby wanted.”

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Mention Series Potential in Query Letter?

in Submissions/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I have written a middle grade fantasy novel that could be the first in a series. Is it a good idea to mention the series potential in queries?

Sincerely,
Heather

Dear Heather…

Only mention series potential if you’ve developed a full series and that’s how the project must be contracted. Don’t complicate matters; if this story can stand alone, let agents/editors fall in love with it before you go into all the other things it can become. There’ll be plenty of time for that discussion later.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: What’s a Poor Vampire Writer to Do?

in Publishing Biz/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

It’s no secret that editors and agents are sick of werewolves, ghosts, and especially vampires. So is there really any point in writing a vampire novel right now? Don’t agents and editors just roll their eyes when they see the words “Vampire” and “Young Adult Paranormal” in a query letter?

Sincerely,

Megan

Dear Megan…

If that’s all your story is—“a vampire book”— then yes, they’ll roll their eyes. The market has plenty of those. That hook is no longer enough to make a sale. Your paranormal story must be more than its monsters. One thing I hear editors asking for now is cross-genre paranormal to offer readers who love vampires something fresh. “Vampire” has been done; “Vampire astronauts who take over the first human colony on Mars” has not. Don’t simply get gimmicky, though. A genre blend must be a natural one, with a solid story at its core. Gimmicks may get attention, but solid storytelling earns the sale.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Dare I Write a YA Western?

in Publishing Biz/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I’ve hashed out an idea for a young adult western, which I think could be refreshing amidst a swirl of vampires and zombies and fantasy novels. What is your opinion on the marketability of a western in today’s market? Is it a difficult placement and sell in 2011?

Sincerely,

Lorie

Dear Lorie…

If the scuttlebutt at ALA Midwinter this month was on target, there are signs of vampire fatigue in the young adult marketplace. So maybe a western would be more intriguing to editors now than it would’ve been, say, a year or two ago. Still, because kids aren’t racing into bookstores shouting, “Where’s the YA western section?!,” pitching your project as a straight “western” may not be your best bet. Is your story anything else? That is, have you got an unusual love story, or some historical angle, or a plot twist that can be your hook? I’ve edited two great YAs that have a “western feel”: Much Ado About Grubstake by Jean Ferris and Billy the Kid: A Novel by Theodore Taylor. Both are something besides westerns. The first is a quirky story about a girl who yearns for the exciting life she sees in her “penny dreadful” novels—and gets it. It pokes fun at the conventions of cheap melodrama. Fans of “quirky” love it, which is exactly how it was positioned. Taylor’s is a gun-slinging, dusty, horsey, train-robbing western, no doubt about it, but the fresh take on Billy the Kid was the hook of choice. Beyond the genre and setting, what’s the hook of your story? That’s what I’d pitch, with the western part being the context.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: 3rd Draft . . . Last draft?

in Creative Process/Plot/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

Now I’m ready to work on the third draft of my YA novel. I’ve never been here before. How do I do this? Should I start over for the 3rd time or just edit parts of it that need work? Is this still the cutting down on characters/bettering the plot time? How do you know when you’re done?

Sincerely,

Melody

Dear Melody…

Alas, “done” isn’t an empirical pronouncement. It’s “best guess” city. Here are five questions to help you decide if big character or plot changes are still needed: If you take the protagonist as he is in the final scene and drop him back into the first scene of the book, will he behave so differently that you wouldn’t even have a story? Did you force your protagonist out of his comfort zone at crucial moments? Has each obstacle pushed the plot and characters forward? Are the consequences of failure dire enough at each stage of the plot? Does each scene in each chapter contribute to its chapter’s overall goal, and does every chapter contribute to the character’s achievement of his story goal?

If you’re confident answering yes to all, you may indeed be at word-tweaking stage and perhaps last draft. Don’t force it. Louis Sachar wrote five drafts of Holes before he sent it to his editor—and that book went on to win the National Book Award and the Newbery Medal.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Is My MG Manuscript Too Wordy?

in Formatting/Punctuation/Grammar/Submissions/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

Is a 50,000-word MG novel too long? If I send a query to an agent with the word-count, will they be likely to dismiss it based on the word count?

Thanks!

Heather

Dear Heather…

That’s not an alarming word count. Middle grade fiction typically falls between 25,000 – 45,000 words, leaning toward the smaller end of the spectrum more often than not. But there are no set numbers. Consider this: Karen Cushman’s The Midwife’s Apprentice is a slim one at 22,000 words (about 122 printed pages, depending on the edition in your hand). Christopher Paul Curtis’s Bud, Not Buddy, comes in at about 52,000 words (245 book pages, again depending on how your edition has been designed). There you have it, two Newbery Medal books that show the word count spectrum can be stretched either way for great stories.

Happy writing!

The Editor

Happy writing!

The Editor

Guest Editor Mary E. Pearson re: Help! I’ve Hit a Wall!

in Creative Process/Guest Editors/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I attended a week-long retreat a year ago. I hit a wall and have been lost in confusion about everything: my story and my ability to write. How can I get my confidence back? I seem paralyzed.

Sincerely,

Maureen

Dear Maureen…

I don’t know if misery loves company, but I do want to tell you that this is completely normal for every writer, and it seems to happen at some point with every book. I thought that once I was published that would give me the confidence to boldly move forward in my writing.  Unfortunately that doesn’t happen because every story presents its own unique challenges that can undermine your confidence. In other words, as I’m writing, I still frequently ask myself, What kind of mess have you gotten yourself into now?!  This story is hopeless! It will never make sense. I don’t even know what it’s about! Sound familiar?

I think the worst point is somewhere right around the middle where everything seems to be out of control.  When I get to that crazy spot where I feel like I can’t move forward, I will do all kinds of things to help me keep going, like:

  1. Print it out.
  2. Read and highlight key points or emerging themes.
  3. Force myself to write a one-liner (or several) that seem to describe the book.
  4. Force myself to write a short flap-jacket type synopsis so I can try to understand what the book is about.
  5. Look at emotional questions (inner plot) I have raised. Did I answer too soon and let the steam out of the story? Sometimes it’s simply the last chapter or two where I took a wrong turn and I need to rewrite in order to move forward.
  6. Remind myself it doesn’t have to be perfect in the first draft. Go ahead, Mary, write crap. That’s what revision is for.
  7. Share a partial with friends—every writer needs encouragement. (But be careful about sharing too much too soon. This can derail a lot of writers, especially if the vision for the story is fragile.)
  8. Picture myself a year from now with a finished book. I know the only way I will get there is writing a few words each day.
  9. Trick myself. I sit down to write and tell myself I only have to write ten words and then I can get up and do whatever I want guilt free. TEN. That’s all. But I have to do it every day. It’s amazing how quickly ten little words can grow into a whole page. And then the mind spins during downtime so that your story is always being written. But that daily jolt of writing keeps those ideas spinning.
  10. Reread one of my books about craft. These are like mini-conferences and are a good shot in the arm.
  11. Tell myself I’m just going to hurry and finish this mess so I can move on to something else. But I have to finish it because all my time invested up to that point would be a complete waste.
  12. Banish all the devils sitting on my shoulder whispering all the shoulds and shouldn’ts of writing.  I literally tell myself, “You will never please everyone, so when all is said and done, you damn well better please yourself.  Write the book that YOU want to write!” And I mean it.

I could go on and on with the many ways I’ve invented to help me beat doubt. The point is to keep going, Maureen. You are not alone. Writing is hard, uncertain work and stories have no clear pathways. Don’t beat yourself up when you hit one of those walls. Take a moment to catch your breath and find a way around it.  You can borrow one of my ways or invent your own (I am still inventing new ways) but I know you can do it.  Ten words. . . . It’s like digging a little hole under the wall and before you know it that wall is far behind you.

Best wishes,

Guest Editor for the Day Mary E. Pearson

Author of five award-winning teen novels, including the new The Miles Between

re: Is Branding Wicked or Wise?

in Creative Process/Publishing Biz/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I’m sort of eclectic when it comes to my YA novel genres. But I know “branding” is really important for a writer. When I’m creating my urban fantasy followed by my light, contemporary romance followed by my edgy issue novel, how concerned should I be about consistency as a writer in the market?

Sincerely,

Heather

Dear Heather…

“Branding” calls to mind glowing coals and sizzling iron Xs, and some writers resist the term as if it means just that. The idea of sticking to one kind of story, genre, or audience seems antithetical to the creativity that drives them to write. Branding yourself as a writer of something specific is a valuable strategy because it helps readers discover and stay with you long-term. They know what they’re getting—and they want more of it. Fortunately, eschewing branding doesn’t mean sabotaging your career. Plenty of MG/YA writers enjoy careers where their consistency is not in genre but in the quality of their writing. Look at M.T. Anderson, author of the cyberpunk YA Feed (a National Book Award Finalist), the two-volume YA historical fiction The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing (both volumes are Michael L. Printz Honor Books; the first also being a National Book Award Winner), the wacky, satirical middle grade series “Pals in Peril” (of which Whales on Stilts is my personal favorite), and the lauded “Norumbegan Quartet” fantastical adventure series (upcoming: The Empire of Gut and Bone), among others. Anderson’s brand is his name, which has become synonymous with brilliant writing. Now there’s a brand worth cultivating.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Integrating the POV and Narrative

in Narrative Voice/Point of View/Submissions/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

Please explain this comment from an agent on my midgrade historical fiction ms told in first person: “your POV and narrative are not integrated enough.”

Thank you,

Carrie

Dear Carrie…

Sure, I’ll take a stab at translating. Two guesses, which aren’t mutually exclusive:  1) The agent thinks the narrative voice sounds too old for a story told by a tween. Perhaps the words are too fancy for a kid, or the sentence structure too complex, or the insights too sophisticated. Give each of those a look. 2) The agent thinks some of the things mentioned in the narrative were things that your POV character could not know. Make sure your first person narrator only mentions things she can know first-hand.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: How Much Talk Is Too Much in YA Fiction?

in Dialogue/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

How much dialogue is too much dialogue in a young adult novel?

Sincerely,

Katie

Dear Katie…

I’m on Day 7 of intense dialogue immersion as I draft that chapter of Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies, so your question finds me in the right frame of mind—albeit barely. The gray matter is nearly wrung dry on this topic. Let’s see what I can squeeze out.

There’s no official “too much” threshold for dialogue in YA fiction. You’ve got to find the right balance of dialogue and narrative for your style and your target age group. The bestselling The Book Thief (ages 12 and up) is almost 600 pages, with probably 2/3 of each page being narrative rather than dialogue. This might intimidate younger readers, who tend to feel comfortable seeing white space and dialogue on their pages. But then, The Book Thief’s got a lot of white space thanks to frequent paragraphing, and its conversational narration makes even the narrative bits feel like dialogue, establishing a satisfying balance. The reverse, a book that’s 2/3 dialogue on each page, can feel balanced if the narrative that does appear avoids wasting time on innocuous actions (brushing hair aside, turning to face other characters) and instead offers dynamic and revealing actions that challenge readers—perhaps deliberately contradicting the spoken words, or hinting at feelings that the speaking character wants to hide. The narrative could add a subtext, extra plot info, and additional tension to the story. My worry is that setting might be overlooked when the narrative is spare. Setting can be worked into the action (a character interacting with a prop in a revealing manner) or directly addressed in the narrative (a brief sensual description of the place) to illuminate or enhance your character in ways that dialogue alone cannot do.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Finding Adventure in Historical Fiction

in Submissions/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I have just completed an MG adventure for boys set in the middle ages. I’ve heard that historical fiction is a hard sell these days. How should I pitch my manuscript?

Sincerely,

Nancy

Dear Nancy…

Okay, so historical fiction isn’t as hot as vampire love stories right now, but you’ve got a secret weapon—a middle grade adventure for boys! Editors crave that. Pitch the action with the biggest fork you can find. Knights and armor, warlords and feudal tragedy, crusades and barbarian invasions, and royalty that snuffs each other out faster than Black Death? Yowza! Gotta love the middle ages. “MG adventure for boys” are the keywords for your pitch. Hit that angle hard.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Is the “Upper” Part of “Upper YA” Moving Up?

in Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

Are novels with protagonists who are in their late teens and early twenties also considered YA? Lauren Conrad’s new YA series has characters who are 19. How old can a heroine/hero be in a YA novel? Please clarify! Thanks!

Sincerely,

Mayra

Dear Mayra…

Traditionally, no. But what does tradition have to do with reality TV? Lauren Conrad was a high school senior when she starred in her first reality show, Laguna, and at 20 years old she started filming the spin-off The Hills. It makes sense that her “semi-autobiographical” multi-book deal would be aimed at the upper YA audience with the crossover adult market also firmly in those sights. In the first book, L.A. Candy, the protagonist is already nineteen years old and out of high school. This isn’t an anomaly, by any means. Publishers are venturing into the upper teen/early twenties demographic that falls in the gap between YA’s traditional age-18 cut-off and books for adults. Conrad already has that audience covered with her TV platform, so she’s a natural fit for this stretching of the YA boundaries.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Time to Trash My Manuscript?

in Narrative Voice/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I have been sending out my middle grade fantasy. I was writing to my 8 year old but the 2 rejections I received speak about voice. I myself am moved by the voice in children’s books and can certainly attain A GOOD voice in a new book, but should I throw this one away? Believe the two rejections?

Sincerely,

Gemini

Dear Gemini…

Two thumbs down don’t warrant the round file. But since those thumbs take issue with the same thing—voice—let’s take that up. One way to make a “good” narrative voice “great” is to spiffy up your word and phrase choices. Don’t use bland go-to words. Characters don’t sit, they kick back or slump. They don’t get mad, they freak out or huff about. They’re not small, they’re scrawny. But even more than replacing bland verbs with active ones, or innocuous adjectives with spunky ones, look for phrases that force you to re-examine and recast the entire sentence, then the paragraph, then the scene, etc. For example, changing “He was so dumb” to “He was a congenital idiot” opens up a whole new personality for the narrative voice. Look to the last entries in your bound thesaurus (not those free on-line jobbies that are so heinously sparse), at the nonformal usage (“nf”) listings and let them inspire you. Start with a single scene, experimenting with phrases you wouldn’t have considered in the past. A new voice should emerge and take over the scene, and then the next scene, and then the next…. Give that a try and see how it flies.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Are Three Pens Better Than One?

in Creative Process/Publishing Biz/Submissions/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

Two writer friends and I have collaborated on a mg novel. Are editors leery of taking on collaborations and working with three authors and three agents? Is there a preferable way to package our talents so that we can be marketed as a team versus individuals?

Sincerely,

Natasha

Dear Natasha…

If your material is The Goods, editors won’t balk at a 3-person writing team. But be ready for extra scrutiny from them and reviewers: Three authors? Must be three times as good! Your voices must be seamless if they’re meant to blend. Or, if there are three different parts, each voice must be distinct, and changing from one to another must offer insight you could only get from that voice.

For insight into packaging a threesome, I tapped my favorite publicity collaborators, the duo at Blue Slip Media. They do point out possible marketing challenges: 3 author names on promo materials is tricky design-wise, and it’d be 3 times more expensive to bring all of you to conferences or go on tour, and having 3 agents pushing for top billing for their authors could be a headache for the Marketing Director. These might be arguments for packaging the group under a pen name—one that hints at or directly declares your team-up. You can brainstorm it with the Marketing Department when the times comes; you needn’t have it completely finalized when you submit. Despite these challenges, Blue Slips says that Marketing would welcome the unique possibilities your threesome offers: 3 sets of networks to tap into, 3 locales where you can push for local publicity, and potential for some great trade coverage (like Publishers Weekly and general newspapers/magazines) for the unusual approach to writing fiction. Having 3 authors makes the book stand out from the pack, a key in publicity. Just be sure you work together seamlessly (that word again!) so you can agree on things quickly and move forward.

I also checked with a publishing law attorney, Lisa Lucas at Lucas LLP. After all, a collaboration is a business partnership, and many authors forget that in the excitement of creating and submitting. Turns out Lisa blogged about this very issue earlier this summer. Her main message: Brainstorm the entire process, consider all the things that may come up, then assign responsibility and memorialize that on paper. For instance, when one author is at a conference doing the selling, should she get a bigger cut of those sales? Your agents, too, must work things out among themselves before bringing in the outside pressure of a publisher. Of course, you can’t predict everything (Lisa cites a case where one author in a collaboration commits murder—yikes!), but do take to heart her message about proactively discussing touchy things.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Should Flashbacks Be Feared?

in Plot/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

In my critique group my fellow authors warned me about the dangers of flashbacks in fiction. They suggested a prologue, but I have heard that prologues can also be deadly to a manuscript. Can you give me some advice on this matter?

Many thanks,
J

Dear J…

I have this niggling feeling you’re looking for ways to set up your story before it happens. As in, Psst! Hey, Reader, let me tell you something about the character before you start. Don’t do that. You have plenty of time to slip them background info once they care about your protagonist and the problems ahead of her. If they don’t care about her, they won’t give a fig about the things that happened in her past to make her who she is today. Instead, open with your character doing something that reveals her personality and hints at her problems. Then sprinkle in the background essentials, teasing them out with little references and then doing a Grand Reveal in a clever, unexpected way. Flashbacks are often big backstory dumps, so use them sparingly and with caution. Prologues are okay as long as you’re not just looking for a dumping method that doesn’t being with the letter “f”. The prologue must be entertaining in its own right. It’s not a free Psst! Hey Reader! moment. That’s when prologues become “deadly.” Readers want action in the first words, not explanation.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Query Quandary

in Submissions/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I have written a few query letters for my picture books, and sent them off to many editors, with no
success. I decided to write a Middle grade novel and try to get it published first… Question is: Can I query it before I finish? And is it bad to query the editors I have already queried for my picture book?

Sincerely,

Christina

Dear Christina…

It’s not unheard of to query before you finish your manuscript. This is one way to lessen your waiting time between query and response. You’re not really waiting if you’re still writing, right? However, while the logic is there, there’s risk in this maneuver. Should you get a speedy reply asking for materials, you wouldn’t have anything to send and would have to hem and haw or make up excuses for your delay. Or worse, you’d rush out with something before it’s thoroughly cooked. Leaving a request for more dangling is always a little hinky. The agent may wonder if you’re flaky or not as serious about him/her as you claimed to be in the query, and the last thing you want to do is give agents a reason to narrow their eyes suspiciously. Most writers send in their material within hours or days of the request for more.  If you’re going to query before your manuscript is done, make sure the ms is really really darned close to being done.

If the editors you queried for your picture book also handle MG fiction, then yes, query them for your novel. They didn’t reject you, just that particular picture book.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Is Past Tense Safe for Synopses?

in Formatting/Punctuation/Grammar/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I am working on a synopsis for my MG novel. It is written in present tense, except for a few sentences (in past tense) that provide background material explaining why a character did something. Is that okay?

Sincerely,

Theresa

Dear Theresa…

You’re in the clear. Fiction synopses follow the “literary present” axiom and are written in present tense, but it’s okay to break away, just for a sentence or two, to mention a past event that somehow informs the present happenings:

  • Sarah hates jocks, who always stop and hassle her, wondering if she’s the girl who almost burned down the gym last year. Luckily, Sarah’s brother saved the gym—and her along with it. He even saved the spirit banner from the flames. Now, on the anniversary of the fire, her brother gets to strut down the hall like some super hero while she has to hide behind her locker door until the bell rings.

As long as you keep past tense breakaways short, sweet, and rare, no one will be confused or distracted.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Must a Murdering Dad Make Good by “The End”?

in Characterization/Plot/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

My protagonist’s father is convicted of murder. He also has a history of abuse. He’s found innocent of the murder, and promises a better life for his family. My critique group wants him rehabilitated. How can I resolve this and stay true to the time period when spousal abuse was sadly hidden or ignored?

Sincerely,

Maria

Dear Maria…

In teen fiction, your primary responsibility is to your teen protagonist. It’s her story, above all else, and your readers care about her struggle to overcome a situation, be it one at school, one at home, or one that involves a murderous, abusive parent. Your story must end with your protagonist finding a new maturity or understanding of herself and how she can live her life in full knowledge of her father’s crime(s). It’s not about a tidy ending, with Dad making good. Sometimes dads don’t make good. If being true to the story, the era, and the culture means that Dad shouldn’t get rehabilitated, then don’t force it for the sake of a pat ending. You want a satisfying ending, and that satisfaction will come from your protagonist’s emotional empowerment.

Happy writing!

The Editor

NEWSFLASH: The Editor to Write “Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies”

in Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Big news…

.

Dear Readers…

I’m proud to announce that I’ll be writing “Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies” for Wiley Publishers’ For Dummies line. The book is scheduled to publish June 2011.

In the meantime, I’ll continue posting new questions from writers—and my answers—here on Dear-Editor.com. Keep those great questions coming!

Oh, and keep your eyes peeled for my next Free Edit Giveaway Contest. Dear-Editor.com is juuuuuuust about at the six-month anniversary mark….

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: How Many Characters Are Too Many in Chapter 1?

in Characterization/Openings/Plot/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

Is there a maximum number of characters to introduce in the first chapter of a MG grade or YA novel? I don’t want to introduce too many, but I have 8 characters PLUS a generic Mom, Dad, and two sisters. Does it make a diff if some of these 8 are name intros only?

Sincerely,

Carol

Dear Carol…

Twelve characters isn’t an opening chapter—it’s a party! And it’s overwhelming. No reader can keep that many new characters straight, especially when two thirds of them are just names. That’s a clear sign you’ve fallen victim to backstory, where you explain your protagonist’s life or describe her predicament in full. Don’t do that. Chapter One should focus on the protagonist, revealing her main concern and hinting at the journey or challenges ahead of her. You may do this with the help of a secondary character or two, but keep the number small, and have them acting upon or reacting to the protagonist, keeping the spotlight on her. There’s no official number of characters for the first chapter, but ‘fewer is better’ is a good rule of thumb. Next time, instead of writing a big ol’ party, imagine your readers at a big ol’ party. They wouldn’t get some voice-over delivering the history of every party-goer as they walk in the door. They’d meet a few of them, one or two at a time, one question-and-response at a time. At the end of the night, they’d go home with a solid feeling for two or maybe three people. Perfect. There’ll be plenty of parties for the folks they didn’t meet tonight—just as there are plenty of chapters in your book for the characters in the wings.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: What’s a “YA Memoir”?

in Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I’ve seen some editors and agents state that they would like to add a YA memoir to their list.  My understanding of YA is that it is all in the moment.  How would a YA memoir work in terms of POV?  Are there examples of published YA memoirs?

Sincerely,

Kellie

Dear Kellie…

“YA memoir” is tricky to pin down since it’s just emerging as an “official” category, but Gretchen Hirsch, an associate editor at Atheneum, took a stab at defining it for us: “The unifying theme seems to be people who grew up in unusual or even tragic circumstances – with hope for the future.” While these memoirs are written in first person, past tense, the narratives put readers in the moment with their immediacy and their ability to ditch the preachy sophistication that often accompanies an adult’s critiquing of his childhood. Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines by Nic Sheff and Three Little Words: A Memior by Ashley Rhodes-Courter are two of Gretchen’s favorites. Both narratives use a straightforward, declarative style. There are also notable YA writers who’ve marketed their autobiographies to their YA audience, with crossover appeal to adult fans: Walter Dean Meyers’s Bad Boy: A Memoir, Jack Gantos’s Dark Hole in My Life, and David Small’s highly visual Stitches. While YA Memoir doesn’t seem to be a trend per se, there’s definitely growing interest in this category. If you’ve got an “unusual” past, might be time to revisit it in your writing.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: How Do I Find Small Publishers?

in Submissions/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I have a mid-grade novel, which I have not found a place for yet. I’ve tried most of the major publishing houses with no success.  I wondered where I could find a list of small publishing companies, and would submitting to them be the next logical step?

Sincerely,
Betty

Dear Betty…

Small publishers are a solid idea; the “big” houses don’t publish every book out there, after all. Smaller houses often know how to target niche markets well, and they can be more willing to take on books that don’t scream “bestseller” from the git-go. The Literary Marketplace (LMP) is a great directory of American (and Canadian) publishers of all sizes, available online and in book form. But since you’re writing MGs, Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market might be a better place to start, as it focuses on the children’s book industry. In both resources you’ll get publisher contact information, specific editors’ names, and each house’s topic/genre preferences. Do research each of your potential publishers online, as the definition of “small publishers” is morphing daily with advances in digital publishing and online marketing capabilities. You want to find the right level of “small” for you. At your phase of submission, I recommend you aim for long-established houses, with a solid backlist and proven professionalism. Don’t be afraid to stand in your local bookstore for a few hours at a time, opening up books similar to yours and checking the copyright page for its publisher. I think you’ll be surprised by how many smaller houses are getting books into stores.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: What Is My Novel?

in Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

My character is a 7th grader, she’s 13 years old, my novel is intended for middle school age students. I have been querying it as “Middle Grade Contemporary Fiction” but I just read on a blog that middle grade is considered ages 7-10? Am I wrong? HELP!

Sincerely,

Danielle

Dear Danielle…

Your novel is exactly what you thought it was: a solid MG. Your protagonist’s age and grade are right for tween readers. The 7 to 10 age range you cite sounds young to me, more befitting of the chapter book category. MG is commonly considered to start at age 8, extending up to age 12, at which point the YA category kicks in. Your character is thirteen years old, but she will appeal to older tweens, perhaps 9/10 to 12, as most kids like to read ‘up’. Because young readers tend to defy strict categorization, there’s a lot of wiggle room on the top and bottom of the age ranges, but here’s a breakdown that can serve as your general reference for teen/tween categories:

Chapter book: Ages 7 to 10; fully developed characters and longer text (roughly 100 or more pages) broken into chapters; may include decorative ornaments and/or limited black-and-white illustration.

Middle grade fiction: Ages 8 to 12; longer text, may or may not be illustrated.

Teen fiction: Ages 12 and up; more sophisticated plots, characters, and subjects.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Using Song Titles as Chapter Headers

in Contracts/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

My middle grade novel’s protagonist is moved when she learns a new song, which is at the heart of the book. Can I use the titles of published well-known songs as chapter headings? Will a publisher think this is too much work to get permission rights? There’s 15 chapters.

Sincerely,

June

Dear June…

Song titles are not protected under copyright law. For more on this, see the United States Copyright Office FAQ page. (It’ll also tell you about copyrighting your Elvis sighting, which tickles me to no end!) While your use doesn’t sound problematic, it is possible you could run into trademark issues. That is, some song titles are synonymous with the bands that made them famous and may be protected under trademark law. Remember the “Californication” legal fight between the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Showtime a few years ago? If you intend to publish your project through a traditional publishing house, in-house legal staff can verify your use of the song titles, so go ahead and use the titles in your manuscript without worry. If you’re going to self-publish, you can settle your mind (and CYOB) by verifying your use of the titles with an intellectual property law attorney. I’m just an editor; they’re the ones who can give you the official legal thumbs-up.

Oh, by the way, the publisher won’t think “it’s too much work” at all . . . because most publishing contracts require the author to secure the permissions.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Dare I Swear in a Teen Novel?

in Dialogue/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I’m writing a YA novel and the question of four-letter words has come up. Usually, I avoid them. But I’ve got a scene where two kids argue at school, and it seems natural to have one tell the other to f___ off. “Get lost” just doesn’t cut it. Do you have any suggestions? What is the best policy to follow?

Sincerely,

Shelia

Dear Sheila…

If you’re considering the f-word, you must also consider a g-word: “gatekeeper.” Before YAs land in teens’ hands, they usually pass through parents, teachers, or librarians. These are the gatekeepers for young readers, and generally speaking, cussing clogs their filters. Sure, we all know teens cuss, and yes, it would be ‘real’ to write that into dialogue, but how many parents want to put the f-bomb right in their kids’ hands?

You can make a case for foul language in YA when it’s organic to the character or situation, such as warring gangstas in a dicey ‘hood. Gatekeepers might accept bad words there because they’re already letting the kids read an edgy story. But even in rough stories you can avoid four-letter words or unsatisfying substitutions by simply recasting to avoid the need to swear. Let your characters fling cutting insults or act out physically in a confrontation—throwing things, shoving, flipping the bird, etc. You can avoid “f— you”, so do. If your book doesn’t need cussing to exist, don’t endanger its existence by cussing.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: The Perils of Swapping Slang

in Dialogue/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

Often it seems that dialogue can get choppy and sound too contrived.  How do you establish a more natural conversation, especially when writing with a teen voice and vocabulary?

Sincerely,

Anna

Dear Anna…

First and foremost and absolutely most important: “Natural” teen conversation is not about swapping slang. That is, by far, the most common pitfall of newcomers to teen fiction. Consider this exchange of slang: “Dude, that flick was sick.” “I’m sayin’, bro! Way killer.” These are the words of youth, yes, but they sound terrible in written dialogue. Slang will date a book (“groovy”, anyone?), but even worse, it almost always sounds contrived when usurped by adults. Not to mention painful. (Translation for fellow thirty-something-plusers: “sick” is “cool,” not vomitous or snotty.)

Natural teen dialogue isn’t about slang. Rather, it’s about another “s” word: syntax. You want to string your words together in a more footloose fashion, and throw in a little bad grammar while you’re at it. Nothing sounds more contrived in a teen’s mouth than meticulous, proper sentence structure. A teen would not say, “You need to stop doing that” or “Stop running in the hall.” At best, those lines are dull. There’s certainly no youthfulness in them. Instead, a teen would say, “Don’t be doing that” or “Quit with all the running.” You may need to toss a blanket over your signed copy of Elements of Style before attempting this kind of anarchy, but it really will make for more natural teen dialogue.

Another pertinent characteristic of teens is that they are all emotion and reaction, with fewer self-censoring mechanisms than adults. They talk first and think (about both what they say and how they say it) second. Next time you write two teens conversing, let them react and blurt. That way, you’ll have less opportunity to stick a bunch of narrative in between the lines of dialogue describing what the speaker is doing, where he is doing it, and how he is doing it, which chops up even the best dialogue. Sure, you need your narrative pauses in conversation, but be willing to let the dialogue build on itself with a few good back-and-forths before you give readers their narrative breather. It’s a balancing act, I know, but one well worth perfecting. Because when you get this down, the conversations between your teen characters will be more natural—and way sicker.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Forty-Six-Year-Old Wants to Sound Sixteen

in Narrative Voice/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I’ve been told that the main character in my teen novel sounds too sophisticated. I’m forty-six years old! How can I sound like a teen?

Sincerely,
Too Old in Idaho

Dear Too Old in Idaho…

I have a hunch your writing is missing a key element of the teen persona: melodrama. Think about it—with a teen, things aren’t bad, they “suck, big time.” And moms don’t get mad, they “freak out” or their “heads explode” or there’s the classic, “she’s gonna kill me!” They don’t self-analyze, they just react—and that reaction is usually overboard. They certainly don’t say, “I was curt, even to Pam.” Instead they say, “I even ripped into Pam for no good reason. Some friend I am. Here, Pam, let me shove you off a cliff while I’m at it. God, I can be such a jerk.” The things that happen to your teen protagonist should rattle her cage, big time. Let her be melodramatic about it, let her judge herself and others harshly, erroneously, and/or quickly. Inject a little melodrama into your character’s personality . . . you’ll sound thirty years younger in no time.

Happy writing!
The Editor

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